Dell, EMC, Intel and LSI Logic have formed the Storage Bridge Bay Working Group (SBB). It is a co-operative, non-profit effort created to drive standardisation in entry-level external storage. The SBB expects to speed the delivery of emerging storage technologies, such as iSCSI (Internet small computer systems interface), SAS (serial attached SCSI), archiving and virtual tape libraries.

That's a pretty broad goal.

Several other storage vendors have quickly joined in: Adaptec, AMCC, Aristos Logic, Astute Networks, Dot Hill, Neterion, RASILIENT Systems, Seagate and Xyratex.

Initially, the SBB will focus on developing and distributing specifications for standardising external disk subsystem technologies.

So what is this SBB about?

"With the advent of an SBB standard, a wider base of customers will have the opportunity to deploy advanced storage capabilities previously limited to enterprise-class solutions," said Bill Dawkins, chairman of the Storage Bridge Bay Working Group. "This collaborative effort among industry leaders marks the next advancement in storage - one in which standardised storage products are available quicker, giving customers more choice, value and a wider range of technology features." Dawkins is a Dell technology strategist.

Does this mean iSCSI SANs (with SAS drives) for SMEs, plus virtual tape and disk-based archiving? (There is no tape vendor in the group.)

Yes it does. Here's what the group says: "The new working group will define mechanical and electrical interface requirements between storage arrays and the controller card that give the array its identity - identities such as JBOD (just a bunch of disks), RAID (redundant array of independent disks), iSCSI, Fibre Channel SAN and NAS (networked-attached storage). As a result, a storage controller card based on the SBB specification will be able to fit, connect and electrically operate within an SBB-compliant storage array.

It also implies that you can change the identity of an array by changing its controller card. Fancy turning a SAN into a NAS unit? Just exchange the controller card.

A storage array enclosure has slots into which storage array controller cards fit. There are different slot designs for JBODS and RAID disk subsystems. With SBB there will be one slot and a controller card will fit in it and form a bridge to the dusk subsystem inside the enclosure. This card will provide an identity fir and function to the disk sub-system: JBOD, RAID, iSCSI SAN, virtual tape library (VTL), etc.

This process of building a standard interface is expected to simplify the engineering and design process for independent hardware vendors (IHVs) and system vendors (like Xyratex and Dot Hill), yielding significant improvements for customers by decreasing costs and providing quicker access to new storage technology. With standardised SBB technology, IHVs can create a single controller design that is compatible with a number of disk enclosures, lowering development costs. With shortened development cycles enabled by the SBB specification, system vendors can devote more of their efforts on innovation and driving simplicity.

So SBB interfaces are akin to USB interfaces, but at the storage array-controller card interface, not USB's PC-peripheral interface. It's the same standard interface, plug-and-play type approach.

The SBB has a web site. Get a PowerPoint presentation about the group here.

This seems like a terrific idea. Expect Western Digital to quickly join in. Tape vendors might want to sniff around the SBB too, especially the ones with VTLs. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Emulex entering the group either.