Storage Management Rift Grows

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How to best address the problem of storage management has become almost as confusing as storage management itself, with a number of groups springing up with the goal of making storage management easier.

The divisions became a little sharper on Thursday, when Sun said it is leaving IBM’s Aperi effort to focus on the Storage Networking Industry Association’s Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S).

Also joining Sun in the renewed effort to support SMI-S was EMC, which had claimed IBM briefed the press on Aperi before informing EMC of the effort; HP, whose AppIQ unit is based on standards such as SMI-S; and Symantec and Hitachi Data Systems. Together, the group claims more than half of the enterprise storage management software market.

The goal of the companies is to add advanced management features to SMI-S, with new specifications and programming interfaces for a Web services framework for advanced storage management. They also plan the first reference implementation of SMI-S, and they also hope 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 will contribute staff, specifications and code to the initiative.

The focus of SMI-S to date has been on “the instrumentation of heterogeneous storage devices to facilitate standards-based storage interoperability,” the companies said. SMI-S 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 want the specification to define more advanced management functions such as topology, navigation, policy management, security and workflow, the companies said, and they also want a reference implementation to avoid re-writing common functions every 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 at 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.”

“Storage management is a pressing priority for customers and it’s 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 it’s why Sun has aggressively lobbied for changes to the SNIA’s core governance model over the last eight months.”

Sun said that “every aspect of how SNIA operated had to be reviewed to get this and other software initiatives done right. Intellectual Property policies alone took many hours of review by both business and legal teams. … Software development presented a new branch that the SNIA had not explicitly considered before the overall Aperi catalyst. Once the myriad of benefits and challenges were reviewed and hundreds of hours of conference calls were concluded, the SNIA worked exactly the way it was intended to work — many companies coming together in a cooperative manner to help our customers.”

Sun said it became disillusioned with the Aperi effort “as soon as the initiative took a vote which resulted in a simple majority that it would form outside of the SNIA.”

IBM, for its part, released a statement saying it “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 it’s the best way to achieve open standards-based storage management.”

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO, said he’s “not surprised” to see vendors “continue on the SMI-S path. … Whether you like it or not, at least something exists with SMI-S. Granted, there is plenty of room for improvement.”

Schulz said the time may be right for SMI-S to evolve into a broader IT systems management interface for both servers and storage.

“That opens up a Pandora’s box of challenges, but it also moves more in the direction of unified management, which some still see as the Holy Grail,” Schulz said. “Ultimately, it comes down to what IT customers want and need by voting with their IT spending dollars. With tight budget dollars, IT customers need to determine if true unified heterogeneous storage and systems management is a ‘need to have’ or ‘want to have’ item and then vote with their dollars.”

Schulz also said that Thursday’s announcement could mean the beginning of the end for the Aperi project, “given the lack of status information, perceived progress, along with Sun’s departure and missing participation of EMC and HP.”

That said, IBM doesn’t appear ready to throw in the towel. Asked if Aperi had any progress or timetables to announce, a Big Blue spokesperson said, “Nothing right now, but stay tuned.”

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst of Enterprise Strategy Group, said, “The bottom line is SNIA is the place for storage standards, and, as such, most of the vendors want to keep anything that will be standards-related inside the SNIA forum. IBM, with Aperi, was more about creating an open source community to provide storage management. While I’m sure plenty of vendors will try to make IBM appear to be running from SNIA and standards, that is absurd — they continue to be major players in the SNIA standards efforts.

“This was a rift between philosophies on how open source should be conducted,” Duplessie continued. “IBM has more open source experience than anyone on the planet, but the rest of the folks either didn’t want to be subservient to IBM or simply didn’t see how they would benefit from the exercise. If nothing else, by IBM starting this whole Aperi initiative, it seems to have kick-started the vendor community to try and get something done with SMI-S so that users can start to benefit, and for that, they should be thanked.”

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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