This blog is part of a series. We encourage you to also read “How Fibre Channel Standards Are Made, Part I: What Are Standards?” and “How Fibre Channel Standards Are Made, Bonus I: What Are ATA Standards (T13)?”
As we explore the subject of how Fibre Channel standards are made, one useful thing to know in the first place, is how standards differ from something like a specification.
In the world of technology interoperability, development companies most often want to ensure that they make products and product components and receive products (and product components) that work interchangeably with other products from other companies, specifically when multiple suppliers are required for business continuity purposes.
Companies that develop products need partnerships and collaboration to ensure interoperability, but do not necessarily need to have an official consensus based standard to do this; they can simply create a consortium, partnership, or a working group to arrive at agreements about how to base the design and implementation to solve specific technical problems related to ensuring interoperability. Some examples may include (but are not limited to) NVM Express (NVMe), OpenStack, GenZ, Open Compute Project, OpenFabrics Alliance, etc. (Yes folks, NVMe is a set of specifications derived from a set of evolving technical proposals!).
A specification is typically a company-specific document which sets parameters for an item. An example of a specification would be geometric, electrical and other parameters for a specific device a specific manufacturer makes. However, a company (or other entity such as a government) may develop a specification for something such as a device or part which will be purchased.
Thus, a specification may be developed for many companies as a requirement by one company (or a few companies) which is applicable to a device or part procured by any company accepting a contract. When companies agree on a technical specification like this, they develop a consortia.
These consortia go far beyond just a “gentleman’s agreement” about how to do things. They work hard to create specification documents, and even base software examples, to address technical problems to ease the task of interoperability. A standard, though, goes a lot further.
Key to the concept of standardization is the role of accountability. First, however, let’s take a look at what a standard is, and what it means.
A standard is a prescribed set of rules, conditions, or requirements concerning definitions of terms; classification of components; specification of materials, performance, or operations; delineation of procedures; or measurement of quantity and quality in describing materials, products, systems, services, or practices.
In other words, a standard is normally a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.
For example, the International Organization for Standards (ISO) standards are developed according to strict rules to ensure that they are transparent and fair. The reverse side of the coin is that it can take time to develop consensus among the interested parties and for the resulting agreement to go through the public review process in the ISO member countries.
For some users of standards, particularly those working in fast-changing technology sectors, it may be more important to agree on a technical specification and publish it quickly, before going through the various checks and balances needed to win the status of a full International Standard. Therefore, to meet such needs, ISO has developed a new range of deliverables — or four different categories — of specifications.
These four categories allow for publication at intermediate stages of development before full consensus: 1) Publicly Available Specification (PAS), 2) Technical Specification (TS), 3) Technical Report (TR), and 4) International Workshop Agreement (IWA). It must also be noted that not all technology standards we talk about are issued by ISO or one of its Technical Committees. There are a few different standards settings organizations (SSOs), who may have differing structures and rules.
Having said that, by ensuring that standards are an integral part of corporate business strategy, companies realize many benefits. Standardization improves efficiency in design, development, and material acquisition. It also conserves money, manpower, time, facilities, and natural resources by minimizing the number of sizes, the variety of processes, the amount of stock, and the paperwork that largely accounts for the overhead costs of manufacturing and selling products.
Products built using standards facilitate interchangeability and compatibility. This results in an increased number of supply sources, increased competition, reduced risk, reduced inventories, increased worker productivity and economies of large-scale operation.
Using standards, designers can be confident that they are designing products that embody recognized practices. Technical risks are minimized by using components that are proven to work for the intended application. By making possible large-scale productions of standard designs, standards encourage better tooling, more careful design, and more precise controls, thereby reducing the production of defective and surplus pieces.
Additionally, consumers (and producers!) of standards have the added knowledge that a breach of these standards can mean answering to the representative government agencies or standards bodies.
International standards help to establish widely accepted common specifications for products, processes and services. As such, international standards facilitate world trade by, effectively, removing technical barriers to trade, leading to new markets and economic growth. For businesses, the widespread adoption of international standards means that suppliers can base the development of their products and services on reference documents that have broad market relevance. This, in turn, means that they are increasingly free to compete in many more markets around the world.
For customers, the worldwide compatibility of information technology that is achieved when products and services are based on international standards brings them an increasingly wide choice of offerings. Standards allow technology to work seamlessly and establish trust so that markets can operate smoothly. This is why standards-based Fibre Channel is the mature, safe solution for high-speed storage communications and is the foundation for over 90% of all Storage Area Network installations throughout the world.
In summary, standards:
- Provide a common language to measure and evaluate performance,
- Make interoperability of components made by different companies possible, and
- Protect consumers by ensuring safety, durability, and market equity
We’re going to be looking specifically at INCITS, the governing body that deals with the standards organizations involved with SCSI, Fibre Channel, and ATA (among other technical initiatives). We’ll also try to understand why they’re named T-something-or-other!