Storage networks promise great value. Using high-speed storage networks separated by great distances gives you sophisticated and virtually foolproof disaster-recovery capabilities. Managing storage independently from your high-availability server configurations gives you increased application uptime. In addition to these benefits, well-managed storage networks can potentially lower the total cost of your computing and storage resources.

Over time, storage networks have begun to deliver on these promises. However, adoption has been relatively slow. Today, almost 80 percent of the storage capacity sold is still Direct Attached Storage (DAS), in part because of both the perceived and the real problems with storage-networking component interoperability.

Interoperability problems scare users. After purchasing costly storage systems to solve numerous problems and lower storage total cost of ownership (TCO), many companies are unpleasantly surprised when the implementation process encounters interoperability problems. In vendors' haste to bring solutions to market, they often perform limited interoperability testing.

Fear about interoperability problems, however, doesn't discourage companies that want to move away from monolithic, homogeneous storage solutions. Despite the fact that storage-network standards are still evolving, users want to deploy solutions composed of hardware and software from multiple vendors to keep costs low and to gain configuration options. Storage users insist on interoperability, and vendors must deliver.

Fortunately, storage-networking vendors now have several venues in which they can test product interoperability as part of a functional solution. One such venue is the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Interoperability Demonstration held twice annually at Storage Networking World. Since 1999, the Storage Networking World conference has given vendors a chance to bring their software and hardware to a central location for 3 to 4 days of concentrated interoperability testing. Over the past 2 years, conference organizers have encouraged end users to attend these interoperability demonstrations. Vendor participation has grown to a point at which more than 60 storage-networking vendors work together on location.

Four months before each Storage Networking World, SNIA's Interoperability Committee meets to discuss themes and logistics for the upcoming conference demonstrations. The planning begins in earnest after members select theme leaders, and vendors sign up to participate in thematic areas. During the planning period, vendors determine which of their products to bring to the lab. SNIA prohibits product promotion.

At first glance, the SNIA Storage Networking World Interoperability Demonstration might seem to be an opportunity for companies to market their products and attract end users by discussing the business benefits of their solutions. However, demonstrations also benefit end users because vendors must work together on interoperable solutions

that can address a business problem. In general, individual vendors test their products' interoperability in their own labs (i.e., in a controlled environment) with selected vendors as partners. The SNIA interoperability lab invites interoperability testing chaos in the service of better solutions. Vendors plug things together, sometimes for the first time, and often must work with other vendors whom they haven't chosen as partners. Examples that come to mind include demonstrations of switch interoperability and demonstrations of multiple backups and other data-management applications that must share tape libraries.

Cooperation in a "vendor-neutral" environment staged as a demonstration open to end users provides tremendous incentive to interoperability initiatives. To provide useful solutions, products that vendors demonstrate must perform well in this environment. In addition, end users note which vendors are absent. Demonstration participants get a chance to roll up their sleeves to work out problems and assess where products require further interoperability. The result is an increased focus on interoperable solutions, tested under watchful eyes.

Lastly, interoperability demonstrations let companies that are incorporating emerging standards perform incremental testing of standards-based products. For example, at a recent Storage Networking World in Palm Desert, California, several vendors came together to find multiple solutions that met the emerging Common Information Modeling (CIM) standard. Such events drive the technology forward and help vendors bring better products to market more quickly. End users who are interested in multivendor, interoperable solutions would do well to attend such events and encourage their vendors to participate.