Microsoft hopes storage spec gets a boost under SCVMM 2012

Microsoft believes its SMI-S specification can address the needs of Windows shops with multi-vendor storage needs, but it will need support from storage vendors to make it happen.

By picking an evolving storage industry standard, Microsoft is trying to make it easier for Windows shops to bring multi-vendor storage to its System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

But whether or not Microsoft has made the best choice, namely the Storage Management Initiative-Specification (SMI-S) will ultimately depend on how well the standard continues along its development track, and just how well it is embraced by the storage vendors.

SMI-S isn’t something that I hear customers clamoring for.

Stuart Miniman, analyst,

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2012 will use the (SMI-S) standard for integration with data storage infrastructure in private clouds. SMI-S, which is overseen by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), specifies a means for clients to communicate with storage arrays of different types and from different vendors, through modules called SMI-S Providers.

SCVMM 2012 will also use SMI-S to connect with storage arrays because the development needed to integrate directly with vendor-specific APIs would be time consuming given the different effort required for each API, according to Hector Linares, a program manager for virtualization and data center manager at Microsoft.

SCVMM 2012 is now in beta and is expected to become available later this year. Some of the software’s features include support for automated, wizard-driven provisioning of server, network and storage hardware for virtual machine deployments through Virtual Machine Manager.

If Microsoft blesses the standard, some industry experts say it might persuade storage vendors to better flesh out their integrations with SMI-S. Others say Microsoft will have to turn to additional methods of storage integration for SCVMM 2012 to bring advanced storage array features often used in virtual server environments, like thin provisioning and automated tiered storage, under its wing.

Most IT shops now testing SCVMM 2012 have not yet dug into the nitty-gritty of storage integration, but will likely be investigating it carefully. Robert McShinsky, a senior systems engineer for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. who manages 23 physical hosts and 400 VMs running on Hyper-V, said he has been researching different storage vendors’ support for SMI-S.

“From many of the major vendors’ documentation, it looks as though there is some good talk about support for SCVMM 2012,” he said. But “working with it directly in the context of having more than one storage vendor will be telling.”

Microsoft adoption of SMI-S could spur standard’s development
SNIA reps say Microsoft’s renewed interest in SMI-S has prompted a response from storage vendors. Reps declined to name the specific storage vendors that have showed up to two recent “plugfests” with Microsoft in the organization’s SMI-Lab, except to say there were more participants once it became known that Microsoft had some interest.

Hans Vredevoort, a Microsoft MVP in the Netherlands, acknowledges that slow adoption of SMI-S by storage vendors could hamper its success, but said, “We’ve seen similarly opposed views to MPIO [Multi-Path I/O] and VSS [Volume Shadow Copy Services]. Microsoft was able to stay on track and make it popular. So, give it time and stay positive. In 2 or 3 years no one will doubt SMI-S anymore.”

Still, not everyone is convinced. “SMI-S isn’t something that I hear customers clamoring for,” said Stuart Miniman, analyst with Meanwhile,“storage companies and management companies are far down the road of bi-directional integration of management with VMware, [which] seems a lot more advanced than SMI-S. Microsoft’s moves should allow it to chip away on the lower end of VMware’s market.”

But customers at the lower end of the market don’t necessarily have a need for the kind of heterogeneous storage support SMI-S can offer. One SMB Hyper-V customer, Leonard Niebo, IT director for the Brick Township, New Jersey Public Schools, said he plans to use SCVMM 2012 for its more fluid provisioning of servers on demand, but will also most likely stick with his Dell Equallogic storage area network management tools.

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Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at [email protected].

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