A New Group

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2006-06-22

Big Guns Take Sides in Standards Shootout

The white hats and the black hats are taking sides in the streets of storages Dodge City, loading their six-shooters for a possible clash over industry standards.

With data storage and so-called ILM (information lifecycle management) becoming hotter than the weather this summer, industry leaders are jockeying for position and political clout, much like the identity management market did a few years ago, when Microsoft started its Passport group and Sun Microsystems countered with the Liberty Alliance.

This time, its IBM leading the way in the Aperi consortium against a new one announced June 22 at Storage World Conference 2006 in Long Beach—one that still needs a name but features five heavyweight competitors in EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Hitachi Data Systems and Symantec.

Unlike Aperi, the five companies are working with established standards bodies to advance a common standard API (application programming interface) for storage customers.

The companies, collectively representing more than half the worldwide market share for enterprise storage management software, will work together to ensure that the SNIAs (Storage Networking Industry Association) SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative specification) becomes a common, widely used industry standard.

Aperi is mainly composed of IBMs OEM suppliers and partners, and its modeling its APIs using the Eclipse software development environment.

Eclipse, though now an open-source toolkit, originally was a project hatched inside IBM back in 2000; its project team is still largely populated by current IBM employees in the open-source community.

Click here to read more about the iECM (Interoperable Enterprise Content Management) Consortium.

IBM initiated the founding of Aperi in October 2005, announcing it at the Storage Network World conference in Orlando, Fla.

At the outset, other members included Sun, Cisco Systems, Brocade, CA, McDATA and NetApp.

Aperi is developing products for managing storage devices based on open-source software built using Eclipse but not necessarily using the 3-year-old SMI-S guidelines.

The idea was to create software that would allow vendors to write their own value-added applications for various hardware platforms without having to recreate code for every application.

"SMI-S is an industry standard, not a collaboration. It doesnt provide a framework to actually manage open source and deliver products on top of it," said Laura Sanders, VP of IBMs TotalStorage Products and Solutions group, at the time Aperi was introduced.

Since then, however, Aperi has been unsuccessful in getting non-members EMC, HDS, HP and Symantec to join.

Next Page: A new group.

A New Group

Sun then announced June 21 that it had withdrawn from Aperi due to irreconcilable differences in approach to storage management standards.

Now, a day later, the new five-company group has been formed.

Aperi was viewed by many people in the industry as a slap to market leaders EMC and HP and as a reaction to the comparatively slow progress of the SNIA on its interface specification effort.

"What standards organization isnt slow-moving?" said Ash Ashutosh, vice president and CTO of HPs StorageWorks Division.

"They have to be deliberate in what they do. Anyway, we have an excellent standards set already: SMI-S 1.1, which is in just about every companys capacity management or performance management tool right now."

It works quite well, and the specification is continually being updated, Ashutosh told eWEEK.

"Were almost ready with v1.2, and theres always background work happening on v2.0," Ashutosh said. "I would hope that there arent two sides on this issue.

The new collaborations goals are to enhance SMI-S with new specifications and programming interfaces for a Web services framework for advanced storage management as well as to provide the first reference implementation of SMI-S.

IT organizations will benefit from having access to improved storage management software that will further reduce the costs of storage administration and align storage resources more closely with business needs.

Read more insight here about storage standards.

In addition, the companies will seek to give independent hardware and software vendors, service providers, system integrators and enterprise IT organizations a common, standards-built pluggable platform to more quickly and cost-effectively develop high-value storage management services.

The companies plan to contribute staff, specifications and code to expedite the success of this initiative.

"SMI-S has been very successful to date in providing a standard way to discover, model and provision storage devices, so increased SNIA member commitments to enhance the specification with more advanced management functions and create a reference implementation of the specification will serve all SMI-S developers and implementers," said Wayne M. Adams, chairman, SNIA Board of Directors.

"The commitment from these SNIA member companies, and other SNIA members who will join this effort, will further propel SMI-S to meet the needs of ILM, data protection, grid computing and interoperable storage management applications."

Thus far, the focus of SMI-S has been on the instrumentation of heterogeneous storage devices to facilitate standards-based storage interoperability.

It offers a specification for managing devices such as disk arrays, switches and hosts, defines a common model of device behavior and provides a common language to read and set control information.

End users, systems integrators and software developers, however, are calling for the specification to define more advanced management functions such as topology, navigation, policy management, security and workflow.

SNIA constituents also have voiced the need for a reference implementation of the specification to avoid rewriting common functions each time they build a new storage management application.

"A number of storage vendors have already done the work of leveraging SMI-S to deliver SAN management and storage resource management solutions," said John Webster, founder and senior analyst, Data Mobility Group.

"This initiative takes advantage of their efforts to create a middleware platform for storage that anyone can use to get past all of the basic foundation work, and focus on building more innovative storage management software."

All five companies were leaders of the early SNIA CIM work and the original Bluefin specification that eventually evolved into SMI-S.

The companies will actively work over the next few months to make the necessary changes within SNIA to enable the organization to support such an initiative.

Standards such as SMI-S create a level playing field where vendors compete on innovation and value, and the ultimate winner is the end user, Ashutosh said.

"Storage management is a pressing priority for customers, and its time for the industry to get serious about developing a common, standards-based framework to address it," said Adam Mendoza, director of storage industry initiatives at Sun.

"The SNIA provides the most conducive environment for enabling the success of standards-based software development projects, and its why Sun has aggressively lobbied for changes to the SNIAs core governance model over the last eight months."

IBM defended its open-source approach in a statement to eWEEK.

"IBM fully supports activities to further develop open standards for storage—and has long been involved in SNIA.

"However, the open source collaboration model, like the one being used for Aperi, is one that has taken off and its results are all around us—it has reenergized the whole IT industry."

"In the last decade, the open-source model for collaborative development has proven itself to be an effective way to bring open standards to different systems, and we think its the best way to achieve open standards-based storage management," said storage software spokesperson Laurie Friedman.

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