Fibre Channel Interoperability Remains A Challenge For VARs
Will manufacturer interoperability programs relieve some of your headaches?
Steve Garceau believes that interoperability problems are still the biggest concern facing VARs and is one that manufactures need to help them overcome. Garceau is the storage marketing manager for Irvine, CA-based CMD Technology. He believes that dealing with all of the Fibre Channel complexities has become a full-time job for a lot of companies. "That is why you see a lot of manufacturers such as CMD, JNI, QLogic, and others coming up with interoperability programs and labs. Whole groups, departments, and programs are being created to deal with these complexities."
The Do-Everything And Do-Nothing Guys
Garceau believes that in the area of RAID (redundant array of independent disks) storage, there are two different camps. One is the "do-nothing" guys. "In the RAID controller market, most manufacturers fall into the do-nothing category," said Garceau. "They create a controller, but it is up to the integrator to get out there and do the compatibility testing and the component qualification. This can be quite costly and time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, when they have components that won't interact with each other."
The other camp is the "do-everything but get it all from me" guys. Garceau puts EMC into this category. "These are the guys at the top of the food chain," he said. "They sell complete storage solutions that go through extensive qualification testing. But these companies also require that the integrator buy everything from them." Garceau believes this results in strong competition for VARs and low profit margins.
"We came up with a program that involves an extensive array of functional testing," said Garceau. "This involves all key components that would be required if an integrator were to build a high-availability RAID subsystem. We bring components in-house, test them, qualify them, and put them on a qualified component list. This list is available online for integrators. They can pick and choose components that work with the RAID controller with the knowledge that these components will work together." The advantage for VARs and integrators is that it reduces R&D costs, time, and effort. They are also freed up to do the things they do well, like going out and finding new clients.
Fibre Channel interoperability is an area in which Crossroads Systems has also invested a lot of time and effort. Elaine Pleshek, senior marketing manager of Austin, TX-based Crossroads, believes interoperability is the biggest issue facing VARs in the Fibre Channel space. "In the early days of networking you had Ethernet, which worked with absolutely everything that was out there," she said. "You had peace and harmony across the network. With Fibre Channel you have more disparate devices."
Testing Labs Provide Solutions
There are a number of initiatives underway which promote interoperability in the Fibre Channel environment. Pleshek feels VARs will want to partner with the companies involved in these initiatives. "These are companies that have testing labs which certify different configurations across the network. Even that is not enough, which is why you get involved in other initiatives such as the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) and the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA)." Both of these associations not only promote interoperability standards, but host independent demonstrations and showcases.
Pleshek believes that involvement in solving interoperability issues is a significant benefit that a company can give to its VARs. "The bottom line to VARs and integrators," she said, "is get with the folks that are the most heavily involved with interoperability. They are the ones with the products that have the highest probability of working, right out of the box."
Having knowledge of which devices interoperate before installing them will reduce the risks and headaches integrators face. It also gives them the benefits and security normally found in complete, pre-configured systems, but with the flexibility of choosing a best-of-breed approach. I applaud all of those companies striving to bring about Fibre Channel interoperability.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at EdM@corrypub.com.