A new working group aims to help vendors and users write standardised interfaces for applications that generate fixed content, and the storage platforms that store it.

The working group, announced at Storage Networking World, will focus its efforts around the Extensible Access Method (XAM) standards proposal from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which is leading the effort to create a protocol for the way organisations store metadata that describes fixed content, such as email, medical records and financial data.

The XAM working group will create a software development kit to help vendors and corporations write their applications to the proposed XAM specification.

The XAM standards proposal, which is expected to be completed by early 2008 for review by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), will be aimed at email archiving first, according to Wayne Adams, SNIA's chairman emeritus.

But email is the tip of the iceberg, as the latest compliance efforts by the US government have been focused on fixed content in general, Adams said. In fact, the Enterprise Strategy Group in estimates that fixed content data will grow by 58 percent annually because of growing regulatory efforts, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

"We're finally trying to bring metadata into storage," said Jered Floyd, co-chair of SNIA's Fixed Content Aware Storage (FCAS) initiative. "XAM empowers applications to store true structured records with standard metadata fields, and not just data streams."

Floyd also pointed out that if any given application that created fixed content no longer exists, the data itself can still be retrieved through its standardised metadata.

Metadata fields contained in the XAM proposal could be customised to specific industry needs, such as data retention fields for financial information or fields describing medical information, such as X-rays, according to Adams.

"End users are doing this today. They're doing it on paper in terms of tracking it to say I put this data in this warehouse that has my Sarbanes-Oxley compliance data. So XAM is a set of tools that is meant to take the burden from the manual process," Adams said.

SNIA also announced yesterday that it has formed an alliance with open source group Eclipse Foundation so that the Storage Management Initiative Specification can be more tightly integrated with the Aperi open source storage project.

So this is to formalise an alliance that will enable further collaboration around SMI-S. Aperi is about developing open source code around storage resource management, while SMI-S is a set of common models and protocols that will allow storage management tools to communicate between different vendor storage devices.

The International Organisation for Standardisation and the International Electrotechnical Commission ratified SMI-S Version 1.03 last year.

While some vendors supporting SMI-S have also been a part of the Aperi effort, other vendors have shunned Aperi, even after it was placed under the auspices of Eclipse last year.

Asked if SNIA's latest move to build an alliance with Aperi was a not-so veiled attempt to quell bad blood, Wayne replied, "The message from the beginning has been consistent and one of us wanting to work together. Most of the members who founded Aperi are also members of the SNIA."