The promise of a universal storage management standard is 20 years old and is full of starts, stops, and vendor lip service–but the latest attempt, called Swordfish, is now available for optimistic system administrators to test drive.

Officials of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) said they learned from mistakes of their previous standardization attempt, called SMI-S, which is mature but is too focused on hardware, takes too long to be updated, and isn’t very scalable.

Swordfish, SNIA officials explained, focuses on common administrative tasks rather than the nuts-and-bolts of how to accomplish those tasks. “What we did with Swordfish was we took a lot of learning from [SMI-S],” said Richelle Ahlvers, chair of SNIA’s scalable storage management technical work group and a storage architect at Broadcom. “We largely updated the technology, made it very REST-based, made it very simple to use. But we also made it very customer-centric and customer use-case centric. So the API and the functionality are based on what clients want to do, not what vendors can implement.”

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To put it another way, it lets users and non-traditional data managers such as DevOps staff tell their heterogeneous storage environment, “Make me a sandwich,” as the Linux joke goes, rather than requesting each individual step to slice the bread and spread the mustard.

How to start using Swordfish

One way to get started is to see if your storage companies are on board, even nominally, with the Swordfish standards effort. The latest list from February 2018 is found in various SNIA presentations such as this one (see page 6). Notable supporters include Broadcom, Dell/EMC, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Hitachi, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, NetApp, Pure Storage, Red Hat, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital.

Next, read up on Redfish–it’s an existing IT management standard from the Distributed Management Task Force. Swordfish is an extension of Redfish.

For curious customers, “If they already have some Redfish systems, there’s quite a bit they could do,” Ahlvers noted. “They could be building up their tools environment, playing with the Swordfish emulator, and saying this is how Swordfish is going to work in here,” she said. “Here’s how I would want to modify my environment to use a Swordfish model… then they can actually start to write up or develop tools.”

Both schools of fish interface to your systems through data models commanded in languages such as Python. SNIA posted three sample models of block-based and file-based storage systems at

To work with the models, you’ll need the Swordfish emulator, because no storage companies are shipping the real thing yet–you’ll find it on GitHub. There is a Swordfish API user guide and a Swordfish practical guide directly on the SNIA site.

Updates to Swordfish

Another change to get used to is a steady stream of updates. Swordfish is in release 1.0.3 since January 2018 and draft 1.0.6 since February 2018. The next major release in August 2018 will gain storage profiles, in order to define base functions for compatible software, Ahlvers explained.

Industry standards are usually slow and methodical. Ahlvers said her colleagues in the storage field are trying their best to adapt to how real-world users work in 2018. “We are deliberately doing relatively small quick releases. This is anathema to the standards world, but organizations are working this way.”

SNIA may partner with the Open Compute Project

Another reason for optimism that Swordfish may catch the bait and finally give users their storage management saltwater unicorn: SNIA is working to establish a partnership with the Open Compute Project, which includes the usual IT giants but also Facebook and Google, along with Fidelity and Goldman Sachs. These companies may be more influential than storage insiders talking to each other.