Sun Microsystems' recent withdrawal from the IBM-led Aperi initiative sets up two distinct approaches to storage standards that will not be resolved in the next couple of years, according to IDC analyst, Graham Penn.
The Aperi group - which includes IBM, Novell, Brocade and Cisco - is focused on developing Linux-based, open source standards. The anti-Aperi group - headed by HP with Sun, EMC and Symantec on board - is using AppIQ software, which HP now owns.
"These two camps are running parallel but also competing. They are trying to solve similar problems but are approaching it in different ways," IDC Asia-Pacific associate vice-president for storage, Graham Penn, said. "But neither are doing it outside of SNIA [Storage Networking Industry Association] standards and it doesn't have to be either or."
Penn argued competition within the SNIA framework would be good for customers, driving vendors and the Association to move more quickly in establishing storage standards. Yet even if the pace picks up, Penn predicted it would be another 2-4 years before any standards are agreed between the sparring groups.
In the meantime, integrators are limited as to what combinations they can propose to customers. Without standards, the storage industry is complex for both parties, according to Sun Storage Group channels and commercial manager, Sam Srinivasan.
"They need to make huge investments in training and there are complex issues around integration," he said. "About 70 per cent of storage costs are related to management. It is just a case of buying and implementing the technology. With standards, this cost would be eased."
Lack of standardisation also restricts wider channel participation as the expertise and investment required to operate in the storage industry is immense. Similarly, some customers can only implement limited storage solutions due to the same complexity and cost.
"In the local market this is a huge problem because we have a vast number of SMBs that rely on local integrators," Srinivasan said.
The schism between standards groups is not irreconcilable, with agreements in place on the basic standards for storage, those associated with getting devices to talk to one another in such cases as data migration and partitioning. Both AppIQ and Aperi programs are based on SNIA's system management interface specification (SMI-S). The more sophisticated elements of storage though are still not standardised.
"The lowest common denominator standards are already in place. As standards are developed, more of the smarts will be incorporated. The next stage will be a higher level of control which allows end users to manage devices and data," IDC's Penn predicted.
If such standards are to be developed, many vendors will have to reassess their business and customers will need to demand their introduction.
"The challenge the storage industry has today is proprietary technology and a lack of standards. Storage won't evolve and become more affordable without standards," Srinivasan said. "There is a standard today but some vendors don't adhere to it because it leads to commodification. If a vendor is used to fat margins, it won't apply the standards," Srinivasan said.