The value proposition for storage networks centers around the growing volume and importance of data—and applications' need for data availability and protection. Strong overall data management boosts a company's competitive edge, lowers total cost of ownership (TCO), and ultimately contributes to the bottom line. However, most existing storage-management tools (e.g., SNMP, proprietary vendor APIs) are inadequate to the task of managing heterogeneous storage-networking environments.

When it comes to managing storage networks, the lack of standards (or rather, the fact that standards are evolving slowly) makes the management task difficult in heterogeneous storage environments. Imagine a storage network consisting of disk subsystems from Compaq and EMC, optical libraries from Hewlett-Packard (HP), tape storage from StorageTek, and Fibre Channel switches and routers from various other vendors. Throw a few UNIX servers into a predominately Windows environment with host bus adapters (HBAs) from different vendors—and you have the makings of a storage-networking-management nightmare.

The storage-networking industry recognizes that managing these heterogeneous environments presents a significant challenge and has been working on solutions. Many organizations have contributed standards to help provide the framework for storage management, and storage administrators should be aware of those standards. The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) manages the set of standards, which consists of the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) Initiative and the Common Information Model. CIM is an information model comprising a modeling specification and an XML-based encoding specification. HTTP is the transport protocol for Internet-based management. Mapping to other legacy-management models (e.g., SNMP) is part of the model. CIM's object-oriented (OO) design abstracts and classifies objects, object inheritance, and object dependencies and associations, which lets an administrator unify data from several sources through an abstract information model.

Although the DMTF helped in CIM's initial development, the Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has been primarily responsible for the ongoing development work that's growing the model in the areas of storage and storage networking. Various groups have steadily built the model for devices that include disk arrays, Fibre Channel switches, and media libraries. At Storage Networking World in April 2002, a group of 13 vendors demonstrated an application they wrote cooperatively to handle a storage network's volume management, LUN masking and mapping, asset management, and status and event monitoring using WBEM and CIM. This event was a milestone in the area of storage-network management because end users saw that they could manage interoperable storage-networking components from competing vendors.

In addition to the work the DMTF and SNIA are doing, other groups are adding value to the management model in areas such as security, lock management, and discovery. All the work accelerates standard development and brings useful products to market more quickly. In fact, several companies are already shipping products that incorporate CIM-based management.

Although the lack of interoperability has impeded storage network adoption, so has the lack of storage-network management tools. The WBEM and CIM standards—along with available CIM-based management products—will move storage-networking technologies further into the mainstream. As storage administrators evaluate new storage-networking technologies, they need to ask each vendor about its plans for CIM-based management. If a vendor doesn't have plans for CIM, storage administrators might want to rethink their partner strategy. For more information about the WBEM and CIM standards, visit the Web sites listed below.