IBM pushes open storage standards with HP

HP and IBM have agreed to cross-license a number of storage application programming interfaces (APIs) and command line interfaces (CLIs) to help customers build open storage area networks (SANs) more easily.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  September 24, 2002

I|~||~||~|HP and IBM have agreed to cross-license a number of storage application programming interfaces (APIs) and command line interfaces (CLIs) to help customers build open storage area networks (SANs) more easily.

As a result of the deal, users of HP’s OpenView will be able to manage IBM’s TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server (Shark) products, while Big Blue customers will be able to use Tivoli Storage Manager to manage HP’s StorageWorks EVA and EMA storage systems.

Both vendors believe that providing users with the ability to manage the other’s key storage products will improve flexibility and boost operational efficiencies for customers faced with burgeoning storage environments.

“This is the Holy Grail for storage and customers have been asking after it for a long time. It will give customers management interoperability across a heterogeneous SAN, regardless of their installed products,” says Jeff Maslen, storage channel development manager, IBM Middle East & Pakistan.

“The deal gives customers greater choice… They [the users] can now manage their entire environment through one management software and get the most out of their storage investment,” adds Bosco Moraes, product marketing manager, network storage solutions, HP.

In addition to giving users more flexibility in their storage environments, Maslen predicts the deal will encourage vendors to improve service levels, as customers will be less reliant on one particular provider.

“Because users will be vendor independent, customer service should improve. Customers will have the ability to go elsewhere if they are not happy but still manage their environment with the same interfaces. It is the democratisation of storage,” he says.

“Another benefit for the end user is that the cost of the hardware comes down and the demand will rise. The focus will shift towards the management software, as customers will look for software that can manage all boxes,” adds Moraes.

The Evaluator Group suggests that this deal supersedes any previous vendor agreement as, previously, storage companies had limited the exchange of APIs and CLIs to a function for function basis, something that reduced the effectiveness of such exchanges.
“One significant difference between this agreement and previously announced exchange agreements by other companies is that previous agreements were limited to exchanging APIs and CLIs on a function for function basis. Therefore, the management capabilities could be limited and customers could not be assured that they were getting full management capabilities. Under this agreement, the companies will be exchanging full-function capabilities,” it states.

Both HP and IBM explain that the motivation for the API and CLI exchange is the efforts of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which is working to create a standards-based management platform. Based on the Common Information Model (CIM) and codenamed Bluefin, the project is looking to create an open, vendor-neutral API for device discovery, monitoring and management on a SAN. This in turn will be used as the cornerstone for a full-fledged management standard that is being developed as part of SNIA’s Storage Management Initiative (SMI).

Maslen argues that any initiative to open up storage standards has to be in accordance with SNIA because it is the only neutral “referee” available to the industry. At the same time, he suggests that unless vendors follow SNIA it is the end user community that will suffer.

“If it [the initiative] is not under SNIA then it becomes a bit of a ‘them and us’ thing where different groups of vendors are saying their initiative is right. Unfortunately, this does not help the customer,” comments Maslen.

||**||II|~||~||~|Mark Sorenson, vice president of the storage software division for HP network storage solutions goes one step further and says “vendors that continue to try to lock in companies with a proprietary approach will find themselves locked out by customers.”

One company that appears to fall into the “them” category is EMC, which is currently pursuing open standards through its WideSky and Automated Information Storage management (AutoIS) initiatives. Like SNIA’s Bluefin, EMC’s project is geared towards creating a storage middleware that will enable users to manage their storage environments through one interface, regardless of the hardware they deploy.

“The vision behind having open standards is to have a plug and play storage environment, irrespective of where you bought [the kit] from. Today this does not exist,” says Qais Gharaibeh, partners & alliances sales manager for the Middle East, EMC.

“However, WideSky is one of our initiatives and with open standards EMC will be able to develop seamless integration [in the storage environment],” he adds.

Currently, a large number of software vendors are attached to the WideSky initiative, including Microsoft, SAP, BMC Software, Computer Associates, Novell and Oracle. Gharaibeh argues that only such a “a big consortium of the big market share holders can create something that is available to the masses.”

However, Maslen disagrees and suggests that this is akin to “the tail wagging the dog.” “Storage vendors shouldn’t tell operating system vendors what to do, instead storage vendors have to fall into line with the operating systems that their customers use,” he explains.

Gharaibeh is unconcerned by the opinions of the other storage vendors. He suggests that EMC will come out on top because it is one of the few leading storage vendors that looks at the storage environment from within and it does not have to consider the other computing divisions within its organisation.

He points to previous battles within the development of the storage industry as evidence of this. “A while ago there were two different technologies that came to the market for increasing bandwidth — there was fibre channel and there was SSA from IBM. They [IBM] said it would be the dominant computing bandwidth, but all of a sudden fibre came to dominate. It ended up with only IBM supporting SSA. I’m not saying that we are putting nails in their coffin, because it is more about what is beneficial to the market as a whole,” says Gharaibeh.

It is this infighting that looks set to hold back the development of open storage standards, even though this is what both IBM and EMC are striving for. As the analysts at Bloor Research say, “opening APIs looks, at face value, to be a simple and quick step to take. Unfortunately there is every possibility that inter-company rivalries, politics and fear of competition may mean that the complete open availability of APIs may not happen before standards are created.”||**||

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