Open source group fuels controversy

By Kevin Komiega

An IBM-lead group of nine storage hardware and software vendors surprised attendees at the Storage Networking World conference in October when they announced a plan to form a non-profit, open source community aimed at developing a heterogeneous, standards-based common storage management platform.

Joining IBM as founding members of the project, called Aperi (from Latin meaning “to open”), were Brocade, Cisco, Computer Associates, Engenio Information Technologies, Fujitsu, McData, Network Appliance, and Sun.

Laura Sanders, vice president of TotalStorage Solutions at IBM, says the goal of the project is to develop a common management platform for all types of storage systems. Aperi members will contribute source code, personnel, and funding to the project.

The development of the Aperi platform will build on the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). SMI-S will serve as the common interface between heterogeneous storage devices, while code developed through the Aperi project will provide a framework for applications to perform high-level management functions.

Details about how the Aperi community will be organized are still sketchy, but more information about the group, including who will serve on the board of directors, is expected in the coming months. The group had its second official meeting earlier this month.

Conspicuously absent from the announcement were vendors such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec, although IBM’s Sanders claims that invitations to join the Aperi initiative were extended to all major storage vendors.

Some in the industry believe the Aperi project was formed as a direct reaction to HP’s acquisition of software start-up AppIQ. AppIQ’s management software is based on the SMI-S standard and is either a component of, or works with, a wide array of storage management applications. (In addition to HP, AppIQ OEMs include vendors such as Engenio, Hitachi Data Systems, and Sun.) According to analysts, HP’s acquisition of AppIQ gave the company a leg up in the open storage management race.

However, IBM’s Sanders claims that the Aperi project was under development “long before” HP announced the AppIQ acquisition.

HP, which is not currently involved with Aperi, seems to think the project runs parallel to the path that HP is already walking. “We’re looking at Aperi as a good thing. We don’t view it as a negative as long as [HP and Aperi] have the same general view of what is good for customers and the industry,” says Frank Harbist, HP’s vice president and general manager of information lifecycle management and storage software.

Harbist would not speculate as to whether HP would eventually join the Aperi initiative, but he says that the traditional process is best when it comes to developing open standards. “Working through standards bodies to drive standardization and implementation is a time-tested, proven sequence of activities,” he says.

AppIQ’s Ash Ashutosh, now CTO of storage management software at HP, seems skeptical of Aperi. “Open source is not open standards and it doesn’t mean free software. It still doesn’t get you the ability to manage infrastructure,” he says.

HP did admit that it was aware of the Aperi project prior to its official launch. However, EMC claims it wasn’t asked to the party despite IBM’s claim that invitations to join the group were extended to all of the major storage players.

“We were perplexed that EMC was informed of the proposed initiative after IBM had already notified select media,” says EMC spokesperson Dave Farmer. EMC officials were also quick to point out that the SNIA was also not engaged in the process.

“EMC remains committed to looking at all standards proposals but, given the fact that we had virtually zero runway to evaluate the proposal’s merits, we are not planning to join at this time,” Farmer said last month.

The SNIA issued a brief statement after the Aperi launch saying that it was “encouraged” to see activity around the SMI-S standards. The SNIA statement also pointed out that SNIA was briefed on the Aperi announcement, although it is not clear when they were brought into the process.

Like HP, Symantec considered joining the Aperi group, but ultimately declined the invitation. The company issued a statement in which it said the storage management community should focus its efforts on supporting the SNIA initiatives and accelerating the SMI-S standard into solutions for customers.

Symantec, which is a founding member of SNIA and co-author of the SMI-S specification by virtue of its Veritas acquisition, also said it “has chosen not to participate in this open source initiative as the program is currently structured,” but did not elaborate on why it found the current structure of Aperi unsatisfactory. Symantec said it continues to monitor the progress of Aperi and will consider participation in the future.

End users should not expect any miracle management applications in the near future. The project will take time to develop into a real-world storage platform. Randy Kerns, VP of strategy and planning at Sun, says skepticism about the ability of storage vendors to work side-by-side is for now irrelevant to the success of the open source movement. “Customers shouldn’t care about this until they have the open source platform. Then they will be able to measure our success,” he says.

This article was originally published on December 01, 2005