Users demand openness, vendors respond


Jim Rothnie
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EMC delivers Auto IS components

An informal poll at the recent Storage Networking World show confirms what end users have long been telling system and software vendors: Incompatibility among products is not only causing big IT headaches, but it also is costing companies big bucks.

About 79% of poll respondents said product incompatibility negatively impacts their business. Similarly, 80% said that vendor-independent storage management training is necessary to help deal with the multitude of hardware and software management products in end-user storage environments today.

The answer, vendors agree, is consolidated management through a single console. "The idea is to put all of your storage resources into a common architecture where they can be shared and managed by one piece of software," says Jim Rothnie, EMC's chief technology officer.

"It's the nirvana that all vendors are going after," agrees Steve East, vice president, solution engineering, at Hitachi Data Systems.

But all involved admit that getting there won't be easy. For hardware vendors, it means swapping key application programming interfaces (APIs). But with whom do you swap, and how much do you give away (i.e., what level of management do you allow)?

"It's a delicate dance of giving end users what they want but not giving too much away to your competition," says Hitachi's East. At this early juncture, heterogeneous support translates into the ability to recognize and "passively" manage other vendors' devices; "active" management is left to subsystem-specific software.

From a straight software perspective, simplified management means integrating critical cross-platform software components (e.g., virtualization, storage area network [SAN] management, and storage resource management) into a single architecture.

"End users really want to control their storage from one set of services using one console, but is this in the interest of vendors?" asks Dan Tanner, a senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group consulting and research firm, in Boston.

"Everyone is racing to do this," says Steve Murphy, CEO at Fujitsu Softek. "Storage Manager is the glue that will tie the pieces together for us." Softek's software is currently in beta testing.

But arguably the greatest affirmation of the trend toward consolidated management came from historically proprietary EMC this fall when it detailed the first components of its Automated Information Storage (Auto IS) architecture. Among EMC's announcements was initial multi-vendor support for disk arrays from Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, and Sun Microsystems.

EMC subsequently signed an interoperability agreement with Compaq-the first API agreement to fall out of its WideSky initiative (see below). Last month, the two companies agreed to swap storage system APIs. The objective, according to company officials, is to develop storage management products that will support both companies' disk arrays, including EMC Clariion and Symmetrix and Compaq Enterprise Virtual Array. Compaq says it has been working with EMC's Symmetrix API for a couple of months.

"We recognize that users want tools to work across heterogeneous storage networks," says EMC's Rothnie, "and that means putting the openness in one place."

To that end, EMC claims it has abandoned its "walled garden management style" in favor of a more open, flexible architecture-Auto IS-that will significantly increase the amount of storage managed per administrator by simplifying the networked infrastructure and automating key storage management processes (see "HP, EMC get serious about virtualization," InfoStor, September 2001, p.1).

Current products include EMC's WideSky, ControlCenter Open Edition, Control Center/StorageScope, and Control Center/Replication Manager. In the framework of the "openness" discussion, WideSky and ControlCenter Open Edition are the key enabling technologies. StorageScope and Replication Manager automate storage usage and replication processes, respectively (see chart).

An offshoot of its E-Infostructure Developers Program, WideSky is a layer of middleware that enables storage management applications to manage products from multiple vendors. "It's a universal adapter that allows the tools on the top to plug in and interoperate," explains Rothnie.

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WideSky provides an interface not only to EMC storage devices and applications, but also to non-EMC storage, SAN components, and application data. And it ties upward into EMC Open Edition, which serves as the over-arching umbrella management program. WideSky and Open Edition work hand-in-hand. WideSky provides the common interface, Open Edition the common repository (see figure).

Explains an EMC official: Open Edition draws on WideSky technology (e.g., APIs) to populate an Oracle-based common repository with information from a range of storage, connectivity, and management elements, which allows storage management applications to work together seamlessly-all from a single console.

EMC plans to address user demands with four new products: WideSky, ECC Open Edition, ECC StorageScope, and ECC Replication Manager.
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Of course, the success of EMC's plan depends largely on its ability to gather/swap upper-level management APIs, which, once again, may prove difficult to do.

"Right now, Auto IS is all 'slide-ware,' " says Aberdeen's Tanner. The real news, he says, is that EMC-for the first time-is selling its software without its hardware. Many believe this a clear indication of EMC's intention to re-invent itself as a software, not hardware, vendor. "It could be EMC's first step in morphing its business model toward software," says Tanner.

In the past 18 months, EMC has announced 13 new software applications and has acquired seven software companies. A reported 75% of its R&D dollars is currently funneled into software development.

Dell to resell EMC Clariion

EMC and Dell last month entered into a five-year multi-billion-dollar strategic storage relationship. According to the agreement, Dell and EMC will co-brand EMC's Clariion line of disk arrays and software. However, EMC has given Dell exclusive rights to sell Clariion into select market segments, including small/medium business, government, education, and hospitals.

Analysts say the agreement not only gives Dell an enterprise-class disk array, but also frees up EMC to focus its engineering efforts squarely on Symmetrix and the much-anticipated follow-on product to the Symmetrix architecture.

The move is expected to double Dell's storage market opportunity and extend Clariion's reach into small and medium-sized companies.

Dell and EMC officials say the relationship also extends to Clariion services and training and that the two companies will collaborate to develop future networked storage systems. EMC says it is also considering using Dell's procurement and manufacturing capabilities to produce Clariion.

Hitachi announces HiCommand, opens up APIs

With the dual objective of making its Freedom Storage systems easier to use and less expensive to manage, Hitachi Data Systems recently announced HiCommand, a single, integrated software framework for managing multiple Hitachi Lightning 9900, Thunder 9200, and Sun StorEdge T3 disk arrays.

The software is designed to work with products from a variety of other software vendors, including BMC, Computer Associates, IBM/Tivoli, InterSAN, Microsoft, Sun, and Veritas.

"We will leverage the strength of others for backup, clustering, etc., support," says Hitachi's East. Hitachi officials claim the software can increase storage administrator productivity 10x to 20x over existing products.

At the heart of the framework is the HiCommand server, an out-of-band server designed to collect information from host agents residing on supported servers and storage arrays. Communication takes place over an IP network to avoid imposing overhead on data transfers between the servers and storage.

The company says it will make the HiCommand APIs widely available through its recently formed Developers Program, in which some 30 vendors are currently participating.

This article was originally published on December 01, 2001