The open battlefield: how we got here

The open battlefield: how we got here

The debate regarding interoperability has been raised to a higher level, primarily by storage hardware vendors such as EMC, HDS, SUN, and IBM over the past six months. They recognise that most customers deliberately own or have inherited a multi-vendor storage environment.

Usually the larger a company is, the more heterogeneous the site. Over the years, hardware buying decisions have been made either by department or by application or simply by what's cheap at the time to satisfy an immediate storage need. Hardware vendors view this scenario as an opportunity to sell more tin at a management level in the account by addressing the cost and management benefits of using a single storage supplier.

Not surprisingly, many customers wish to maintain a policy of having at least two storage suppliers in the account to ensure best pricing and service. In addition, customers will invariably have a similar variety of interconnect suppliers to provide various switches and routers to satisfy the internal infrastructure associated with their SAN, NAS or DAS (direct-attached storage).

The multi-platform environment is a current reality in Australian sites. Customers are demanding the ability to make better use of their existing storage infrastructure by increasing storage utilisation. Hardware vendors see interoperability as a method to increase hardware sales, along with associated management software, and in so doing gain a stronger point of control in the account.

Vendors cannot afford to have an interoperability strategy that excludes the other main hardware suppliers. EMC has already announced AutoIS, and HDS only last week announced its equivalent package, called True North. Sun and HP are both moving in the same direction. The desire to appear "open" has also spurred partnerships; for example, Sun and Hitachi will work together to ensure customers can manage both brands of hardware.

At the same time, HDS and IBM have already made it clear to EMC that they have no intention of sharing proprietary API-level information with EMC to help with its AutoIS development. EMC will be allowed to use only the publicly available interfaces into its competitors' hardware as part of its solution.

The level of interoperability being offered is open for debate right now. At a minimum, customers will require visibility of data stored on other third-party arrays. But customers will soon need more "active" facilities and have the ability to take control of a third-party device from another vendor's management software suite. Needless to say, vendors are coy as to how this will be provided and in what timeframe.

On the standards front, steps have been made. The development and apparent adoption of the Common Information Model (CIM) has provided an opening for hardware vendors to move towards a single standard that can be used for interoperability development. CIM is a standard language and methodology for describing management information. CIM is promoted by the Distributed Management Task Force, whose mission it is to promote this standard management tool throughout the enterprise, including storage.

- Bruce Jenkins is BMC Software's storage guru.

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