In our conversations with end users-and, for that matter, vendors-it's surprising how often the subject of "interoperability" comes up. Users consistently complain about the lack of interoperability between storage products-hardware and/or software-from different vendors.
To illustrate how important this issue is, consider the results of a recent survey by TheInfoPro research firm, which asked 152 IT storage professionals what they wanted most from vendors (see InfoStor, August 2002, p. 1). At the top of the list were better management tools and better interoperability. And the two are closely related, because end users' concerns about interoperability are increasingly focused on software.
But seamless interoperability among products from fiercely competitive vendors may be a pipe dream for a number of reasons, including the fact that the storage management software market has been plagued by a lack of standards. Emerging standards such as WBEM and CIM may partially alleviate interoperability problems, but only a couple of vendors are currently compliant. Who knows when the rest of the vendors will have compliant products? Besides, just having standards in no way guarantees interoperability, as we've seen in the Fibre Channel market, for example.
But there's a bigger problem. Interoperability-as well as standards-isn't really in the best financial interests of market-share leaders because it tends to level the playing field. And the odds are that the bulk of your storage management software comes from the market-share leaders.
Most of the vendors pay lip service to standards, but they also have to differentiate their products-and you can't blame them for that. In an effort to differentiate in what sometimes borders on a commodity market-and to provide end users with what they want-vendors add bells and whistles that can easily break interoperability, regardless of compliance to standards.
Because of these factors, I don't really fault the vendor community for the lack of interoperability. If we did have true interoperability, we'd probably also have a "me-too" commodity market where products met only the base requirements of what end users really need.
In short, creativity and innovation are anathema to standards and interoperability. You should expect your vendors to adhere to standards, because that at least minimizes interoperability problems, but don't expect them to really embrace seamless interoperability with their competitors' products. That will probably never happen, and having realistic expectations may make it easier to choose the right tools for your requirements while easing tension between the vendor and user communities.
In this issue
Industry analysts say that storage resource management (SRM) is one of the fastest growing segments of the overall storage management software market. And end users are beginning to report costs savings and demonstrable return on investment by using SRM tools. For more information on how and why storage administrators are using SRM software, check out this month's Special Report (see p. 28), by Alan Earls.