Inside a “Compliance and Interoperability” Workshop

Do you read the comic strip “Dilbert”?

If so, you know what a work environment based on cubicles looks like. Many of us involved with the Server System Infrastructure (SSI) Forum just finished our first “compliance and interoperability” (C&I) workshop and, interestingly, cubicles played a key role.

Cubicles are a useful compromise between noise, openness, ease of access and other factors. However, one thing a cubicle is not, is private. Why is that relevant to a C&I event? Let me explain.

“Compliance” refers to the conformance of a physical device, say a computer or plug-in card, to a written specification. “Interoperability” refers to the ability of the physical device to connect with other devices and perform according to predetermined tests.

A C&I workshop has elements of testing for specifications and for tests of devices connected together. Depending on the devices under test, testing can be extremely complex process, often involving entirely new-to-the-world components. In fact, multiple entirely new components can be connected together, based on untested specs and using the latest generation of test equipment.

Participating company’s most talented engineers work to get their components proven compliant and interoperable. That’s where secrecy comes in: engineers have to be able to work without being concerned about prying eyes.

Privacy is also essential for the tests themselves. Early results may not be positive, but those early results could be damaging to a company’s reputation, so they are correctly kept confidential.

How is this privacy achieved? The first C&I workshop was held at an Intel facility. At the lab there are cubicles, per the Intel norm. However, the larger than usual cubicles featured translucent fiberglass panels bolted to the cubicle walls. Also, a sliding lockable door was added to each cubicle.

During the three-day workshop, much was accomplished. Engineers from across the US, Israel and China, representing several blade components, were able to connect their devices together. There were two basic blade systems, one developed by Intel and one by a system OEM. They were developed independently and in parallel, but both were based on specifications provided by SSI.

SSI develops and promotes open specifications for blades and for chassis and power supplies for servers. It currently has almost 40 member companies around the world. SSI has produced 6 blade specs, currently in draft form, to be finalized by the time of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), September 22-24. SSI has also made 3 switch specs from IBM BladeCenter available to SSI members.

There are two focus areas for specification in the “traditional” server area of SSI, one for electronics bays (chassis) and one for power supplies – with over 40 specs released since the inception of SSI. Current specs are always available on the SSI web site, and specs now in development for the next CPU generation will be available for prerelease access.

The C&I Workshop is an important first step on a long journey. Workshops will be held at independent test organizations, purpose-built for such activities. Workshops will expand in scope and participation, as we deliver on the promise of interoperability; really the central tenet of SSI.

See you at IDF! Please come to my session, EMTS006, “SSI Interoperability Delivered: How Server System Infrastructure (SSI) Specifications Provides Interoperable Components”, September 24, at 2:40. I suggest you attend my colleague, Steve Krig’s, lab ECTL001, “Lab: SSI Server System Infrastructure – Industry Open Blades Standards Compliance and Interoperability”, September 23, at 2:05 and 4:15, for a more technical description of C&I tools and methodologies. I also suggest you visit our booth to see our interoperability demo at booth number 520.

Jim Ryan, Chairman, SSI