Storage Expo in the UK was a two-day, middling-size exhibition with a preponderance of first day attendees, and accompanied by a set of vendor-biased presentations in a conference stream, adjunct with poor to middling presentation rooms.

SNW Frankfurt was a one and a half day, large conference stream in excellent presentation suites featuring vendor-neutral presentations accompanied by a middle-sized exhibition. Some 1,800 visitors attended it and feedback was positive throughout. They mainly went for the technology education afforded by the conference streams and used the exhibition for research and additional understanding about the technologies presented in the conference sessions.

Unlike SNW in the USA, the exhibition and conference are both organised by SNIA Europe, the Storage Networking Industry Association in Europe. The US SNW is a show and exhibition organised independently of SNIA but with SNIA contributions. That means the vendor-neutrality aspect of the SNW Frankfurt presentations is not so much a feature of SNW in the USA.

SNIA in Europe is very much about storage end-user education. It is also about storage networking standards.

SNIA in general

SNIA is an industry association, a trade association, that is also involved in standards-setting to that vendor members' products can work better together. SNIA Europe director Bob Plumridge, says: "In the past we created standards and threw them over the wall to proper formal standards authorities. Then we became a de jure standards organisation with SMI-S. No one else was willing to take it on. So we did it and took it to ISO for formalising."

SNIA has a good reputation with formal standards bodies, according to Plumridge: "We're now a fast track submitter to ANSI INCITS." (INCITS - the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards) is the first choice forum for information technology developers, producers and users for the creation and maintenance of formal de jure IT standards. INCITS is accredited by, and operates under rules approved by, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

"Likewise, with ISO, our technical work is regarded as top quality with a good focus."

SNIA and end users

The SNIA has had an end-user council for some time. What SNIA offers is vendor-neutral storage networking technology information. There are other organisations that offer storage networking expertise. Obviously there are large vendor user groups which will be vendor-inluenced, probably vendor-funded, and relatively restricted in their focus - the vendor's products in other words.

Plumridge said: "Large datacentre users are big enough to join vendor user groups and won't necessarily join SNIA."

In the USA there is StorageNetworking.org, based at the University of California at San Diego. It was founded to answer the educational needs of data storage technology users and is currently supporting the formation of local Storage Networking User Groups (SNUGs) and making existing educational opportunities more accessible. Plumridge says this is "a more roots-level organisation that wasn't active at the SNIA level. It has just lost its director."

There is also the Association of Storage Networking Professionals (ASNP) which was once separate but is now part of StorageNetworking.org. The idea was to create a single focal point for local and regional storage professional education and networking.

Plumridge said: "SNO and ASNP are peer-to-peer roots level groups. They attend SNW but don't get too involved with the SNIA. They respond to end-user surveys. SNIA has a very active end-user council, a little like a SNUG. It is very careful not to let vendors join it. In the USA there are hundreds of end-user members. In Europe there are tens of members."

However there is more end-user involvement with SNIA that end-user council member totals suggest, with Plumridge saying: "There are more information access and downloads from SNIA's websites than there are end-user council members." He reckons that: "The number of people SNIA education has 'touched' face-to-face is in excess of 10,000. The number of people involved with end-user course who have achieved some level of certification is over 2,500."

In terms of end-user education SNIA in Europe is ahead of SNIA in the USA. The SNIA Academy has been successful and: "We're going to do second sessions in Russia and Dubai with a third one in Zurich." These sessions are a full day long and, although sponsored by vendors, are vendor-neutral in content.

The message coming through here is one of not sneering at SNIA. It isn't perfect and it could do more, as it would be the first to admit. But it relies on volunteers to run it and is a valuable and successful means of transferring vendor-neutral storage networking information to end-users. This is done at an educational level with SNIA academy days and SNIA certification and, once a year, with the SNW Europe conference and exhibition.

It also plays a role in creating, formulating and driving storage networking standards such as SMI-S and XAM. Again it is not perfect and it can't force storage industry vendors to go where they don't want to go, such as full and completely open and total adherence to SMI-S standards. But it is better, a lot better many would argue, than feeble standards-setting initiatives such as the failed X/Open one which tried to include both Unix and Windows NT under the same open systems standard umbrella.

SNIA has accomplished much more than that and the presence of 1,800 attendees at SNW Frankfurt testifies to it. There is no better event in Europe to learn about the latest technologies in storage networking. So much so that we can look forward to the 2,000 attendee barrier being breached next year.