Aperi group loses Sun, moves ahead

By Kevin Komiega

There is dissension within the ranks of the Aperi group, an open source storage management initiative and community started last October by IBM and a handful of other major storage vendors. Sun Microsystems, one of the founding members of the group and a seasoned veteran in the world of open source software development, recently pulled out of the Aperi group. Sun cited irreconcilable differences and a desire to instead redouble its efforts toward building out the Storage Networking Industry Association’s (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard.

Sun recently issued a press release stating that it is a proponent of open source projects across its portfolio and has been a major supporter of the Aperi initiative in its formative phases, but the company believes the Aperi initiative should be governed by the SNIA.

Less than a week after Sun pulled out of the group, the Aperi community announced that it had officially proposed an open source storage management software project to the Eclipse Foundation and that Novell has now joined the Aperi group’s ranks, bringing the total number of Aperi members back up to 10. Member companies now include Brocade, CA, Cisco, Emulex, Fujitsu, IBM, LSI Logic, McData, Network Appliance, and Novell.

Aperi also announced that Fujitsu, IBM, and McData have pledged to contribute storage management software code to the Eclipse Aperi project. Jamie Gruener, marketing manager for IBM Tivoli, says his company will contribute more than one million lines of code from its TotalStorage Productivity Center software to the proposed Eclipse project.

Eclipse is an open source community made up of more than 135 major technology vendors, start-ups, universities, research institutions, and individuals. Eclipse has served as a launching pad for many open source technologies, including Project Higgins, the Ajax Toolkit Framework, and the BIRT project for business intelligence and reporting software tools.

The stated goal of the Aperi group is to build on the SMI-S standard to develop a framework for applications to perform higher-level storage management functions. Sun’s stance is that the storage industry requires a concerted and standards-based effort that can only be achieved through a governance model provided by the SNIA. Sun has subsequently been lobbying SNIA on behalf of Aperi to spur changes to its core governance model and associated documentation to accommodate open source software development projects.

“Right off the bat Sun indicated that we thought the Aperi initiative should be formulated and governed by the SNIA,” explains Adam Mendoza, director of storage industry initiatives at Sun.

Mendoza says IBM brought several different proposals to the table, including running the Aperi initiative under organizations such as Sourceforge.net or the Eclipse Foundation. He also points out that Big Blue was “very good” about making decisions based on a democratic, majority-rules philosophy, but IBM simply did not want Aperi to be part of the SNIA.

“We were adamant about SNIA involvement and ultimately decided we could not put the Sun name behind the initiative given the direction it was headed,” says Mendoza.

Ray Dunn, vice chair on the SNIA’s board of directors, says the SNIA represents the majority of storage industry players and is the most logical place for new collaborative initiatives to come to fruition. “The SNIA’s mission to include a strong end-user community makes it a perfect environment to accelerate and overcome storage management challenges that plague customers through collaborative software projects,” says Dunn.

Other big storage vendors wasted no time in teaming up with Sun to pledge further support to SNIA and the SMI-S standard. EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Symantec, and Sun have pledged to work together to ensure SMI-S becomes a widely used industry standard.

The self-proclaimed “Big 5” announced their intention to enhance SMI-S with new specifications and programming interfaces for a Web services framework for advanced storage management, as well as to provide the first reference implementation of SMI-S.

The aforementioned vendors also vowed 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 storage management services based on SMI-S. The companies plan to contribute staff, specifications, and code to make good on their promises.

“We worked with SNIA for a number of months and we found that while SNIA is a great foundation for enabling and driving standards, the best approach for Aperi was to leverage the open source community,” says Gruener. But, he adds, the best place for an open source project is outside of the SNIA under an organization like the Eclipse Foundation because it has a track record for fostering the development of open source projects.

IBM does not want the industry to lose sight of the fact that the proposed Eclipse Aperi project is not competing with established standards like SMI-S, but rather, it is complementary to the work already being done within SNIA.

“IBM is a big part of SNIA and will continue to be. We continue to participate in any activity around SMI-S, including the new initiative. Anything that pushes SMI-S forward is a good thing,” says Gruener.

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, agrees with Sun’s stance on standards development. “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,” he says.

However, Duplessie says any attempts to make IBM look anti-SNIA or anti-standards should be dismissed. “I’m sure plenty of vendors will try to make IBM appear to be running from SNIA and standards, but that’s nuts. They continue to be a major player in the SNIA standards efforts,” says Duplessie.

According to Duplessie, Sun’s departure from Aperi was based on a difference of philosophies over open source software development. But there could be a silver lining to this whole episode.

“If nothing else, IBM starting the Aperi initiative seems to have kick-started the vendor community into getting something done with SMI-S so that users can start to benefit,” says Duplessie.

This article was originally published on August 01, 2006