There's not many sites that have storage networks quite as heterogeneous as the SNIA technology centre in Colorado, but then most sites don't actively set out to see what works together and what doesn't - and if it doesn't, to fix it until it does.

The technology centre, based on a campus in rugged countryside on the edge of the city of Colorado Springs, was first planned some six years ago when SNIA - the Storage Networking Industry Association - decided it needed a test lab, says the centre's director Rick Bauer. Now its labs include the latest networked storage technology from across the industry and it is the base for all SNIA's technical projects, especially the interoperability plugfests and the SMI-S spec for standardised storage management.

"We just upgraded all our routers and firewalls due to increased demand. We started with an ISDN line, now we have four T1 lines," says Bauer, adding: "Plugfests are a lot of fun to see, it's like the United Nations but they're all engineers." Plugfests are events that bring together staff and new or prototype equipment from different suppliers to test out interoperability for real.

One reason for the increased comms load is that the centre is more and more trying to provide its demo facilities and hands-on labs remotely, instead of - as it has done in the past - configuring and shipping an entire demo suite out to an event such as Storage Networking World.

Projecting storage remotely
Bauer says that supporting SNW remotely covers the two annual US conferences, plus two more in Europe and Japan, and will in the future include events in Australia and mainland China. There's more to it than that though - projecting storage services remotely will also allow SNIA members, whether end users or manufacturers, to use the lab for interoperability tests from anywhere in the world.

"We have had a fair amount of enquiries from new companies wanting to do interoperability testing, there's probably seven to 10 a year," he says. "Hopefully, projecting it remotely is going to be useful for users who really want to try it first, as it's really expensive to ship."

History buffs might like to know that the site was first offered to SNIA by Compaq, which in turn acquired it with DEC - SNIA now rents its lab space from HP, of course. It's only a small proportion of the whole facility, though - less than 10 percent, Bauer says. He adds that HP has more than 3000 staff based there, while SNIA has 20 paid staff in total, most of them based at its San Francisco HQ.

The technology centre is rarely quiet though, despite its small permanent staff - to get the most out of it, it is also used for meetings, SAN hosting, and educational events such as SNIA certifications. Engineers from storage vendors are frequent visitors too, installing, reconfiguring or testing equipment.

And it even has its own resident US Army detachment - an army contractor has sub-leased space from SNIA to build an object-based ILM storage application, and has archived some 200 million documents over the last two years - although it has billions more to go.

"Every US National Guard and Reserve unit has its own document management system," Bauer says. "The politics of the situation don't allow consolidation so the army needed the ability to access 54 different hardware and software systems. So far it's tested hundreds of combinations.

Teaching SANs
"We also have an arrangement with the local university, they're teaching a graduate storage management course. HDS donated a SAN and we host it for them."

He adds that some SAN vendors are starting to look at using the SNIA centre in place of building their own interoperability demo labs, if they don't already have one.

"Midsized and smaller companies are evaluating their needs - why would they replicate our environment? The big companies have huge sunk costs on showing backwards interoperability," he explains.

What's going on in the lab can also give an idea of what's hot on the technology front, he says: "I think we're going to see more involvement in iSCSI - we're seeing more iSCSI players in the labs. The security vendors are involved too."

Could there be a similar lab in Europe? The ability to project services remotely and the existence of several vendor-owned interoperability labs suggests that while it might have been possible a couple of years ago, it's not likely now. Bauer says there probably will be more labs though, elsewhere in the world.

"We are planning another solicitation for equipment - we have another lab opening in Beijing," he says. "The impetus for China was the demo facility - it's a place where the storage companies don't have their own demo labs. We're also seeing interest from India, as there's software developers there. We will probably have a formal SNIA technical centre in Bangalore, and in Tokyo too."