Can Sun set a storage standard?

Posted on February 01, 1999

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Can Sun set a storage standard?

Support roster is impressive, but lacks key players.

Zachary Shess

Over the past 18 months, the enterprise storage management software market has gained momentum as an increasing number of vendors have introduced architectures to manage the ever-increasing amount of data and devices. To facilitate interoperability among these independent architectures, as well as storage hardware and network devices, Sun Microsystems recently launched Project StoreX.

Project StoreX is a development standard initiative designed to enable vendors to write platform-independent storage applications for distributed, enterprise-level environments. Sun officials and StoreX supporters hope the APIs will not only create a management standard, but also foster interoperability among storage vendors in the software, hardware, and networking areas. "StoreX also allows more intelligent management and application development for storage as it becomes networked," says Tom Awe, Sun`s director of network storage software and business development.

Walt Hinton, vice president of strategy and marketing with StorageTek, agrees that StoreX could potentially spur innovation and shorten product cycles.

"Sun has done a good job of embracing industry standards and bringing vendors together to create an environment where vendors can get more pieces and assemble them faster. Developing around the StoreX toolkit will make interoperability testing easier, and turn solutions around faster," says Hinton.

Some vendors also believe StoreX will facilitate SAN implementations. According to David Tang, vice president of marketing at Gadzoox Networks, to strengthen SAN capabilities beyond just networking storage devices, the network infrastructure needs to be used as a storage management infrastructure.

"A backup application can monitor the status of storage nodes, and if a RAID subsystem fails, the network management framework detects it and reports back to a storage management application that performs a backup/restore operation and provides more constant availability to end users," Tang explains. "That`s the type of automated capability StoreX is trying to provide. If that happens, the SAN market will develop at a more accelerated rate."

A variety of storage, networking, and database vendors announced support for StoreX, including ATL Products, Creative Design Solutions (CDS), Exabyte, Fujitsu, Gadzoox, Legato, Oracle, Qlogic, Quantum, Seagate Technology, StorageTek, Tandberg Data, Veritas Software, and Vixel. For them, being able to leverage a Java development platform to create open storage applications represents an opportunity to generate interoperable products and to provide users with pick-and-choose solutions.

StoreX could also create opportunities for smaller vendors to leverage the open platform to develop more robust solutions with fewer resources, says Ed Cooper, corporate director of strategic communications at Legato.

"For vendors that are more oriented toward point products, [StoreX] would be a way of broadening market opportunity without having to do major product redevelopment," Cooper says.

Some industry analysts caution that while vendors are often quick to support standards, adhering to them can be a different matter. "The success of StoreX depends on Sun convincing some significant organizations to become partners so that it gets deployed and used across a number of platforms," says Robert Gray, storage systems research manager with International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA.

Others, such as Carolyn DiCenzo, director and principal analyst with the market research firm Dataquest (San Jose), believe it`s far too early to predict StoreX`s fate. "Almost everybody says they`ll support it, but how many of them are putting engineers on it now? I think vendors will wait to see what Sun does with it. People are looking for critical mass first," says DiCenzo.

"What I`m most concerned about is their implementation window," says Mark Ferelli, director of industry analysis at Strategic Research, a market research firm in Santa Barbara, CA. "Because you usually have about a six-month window to turn something into a standard, they need to get a move on."

Significant vendors missing from the StoreX support roster include Compaq, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. And supporters, as well as some industry analysts, acknowledge that for StoreX to ultimately succeed, these vendors need to be onboard--a scenario Ferelli thinks is unlikely. "Each of these companies, EMC and IBM especially, has its own strong storage management software and development programs in progress. There is going to be some resistance," says Ferelli.

"There`s certainly a need for a storage management standard, but StoreX appears to be late," says Jerry Watkins, product manager in Hewlett-Packard`s storage management operations. "The standard may be useful, but it would have been far more useful if it had come out five years ago."

Like some of the other vendors that are withholding support for StoreX, HP`s Watkins says that if the standard achieves widespread acceptance, HP could possibly support it. "If they`re successful, it will make it easier for us to interface with other storage systems, but we`ve already done a lot of that work," says Watkins, "and [StoreX] seems to apply to only a subset of the vendors we`re interested in dealing with."

While making no official statement on StoreX, Compaq is taking a wait-and-see stance. "Our position is not positive or negative. If the StoreX strategy can get enough industry backing... then it could be adopted by us, and ENSA could embody it," says Jeffrey Schnabel, director of product marketing at Compaq (see INFOSTOR, January, p. 1).

StoreX supporters acknowledge they need to partner with vendors not backing the initiative in order to provide as wide a solution base as possible. "One of our challenges is being involved with a number of competing companies. If you partner with EMC, Compaq, Dell, Microsoft and Sun, you have to keep them all in balance," says Peter Levine, senior vice president of strategic operations at Veritas Software. "From our standpoint, we have to be plugged into all of them because we take direction from our major partners."

The StoreX APIs are expected to include a variety of management services, including:

- SNMP connectivity, which facilitates integration with enterprise management frameworks. Enables storage devices with SNMP management to be accessed by the management services.

- Distributed management capabilities, including a distributed object kernel that enables enterprise management services and distributed services that enable persistent automated management.

- Platform independence via Java, and the ability to interface to platform-dependent native interfaces.

Initial data services would include:

- Platform-specific storage software with dedicated functions.

- APIs specifying how components interact with each other at interface boundaries.

- Integration with operating system components such as drivers and file systems.

The StoreX developer kit is now available on CD-ROM and includes a runtime version, tools, documentation and tutorials. Support is available through the Sun Developer Connection Program.

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