Standards hole for storage management

I suppose Sun Microsystems Inc. should be commended for selling software to manage storage devices from competitors such as EMC Corp., IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. as well as its own.

Alas, Sun didn't show this at its product unveiling, opting for a familiar all-Sun environment. And it's done little to solve the vexing problem of vendors using proprietary software and ignoring standards to manage multivendor devices.

Still, Sun's new line of storage systems at least recognizes that mass storage has become a black hole in which management spends more money on running the system than on the actual hardware.

Galen Schreck, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says, "Companies can buy lots of storage, but the cost of managing it is a nightmare."

That's because vendors don't sell storage the way users buy it. Users select storage based on application type and data requirements, not the vendor. Vendors argue that customers want one storage provider, but they miss the essence of the demand: Customers want one management view of their storage options; they're not fixated on the name on the arrays. Customers want storage-on-demand as a service from a single console.

Schreck says, "The real measure of success is not whether you have a complete lineup of storage software or hardware. The long-term success is, How does it play in a heterogeneous environment?"

Given that the worldwide storage management software market will grow from US$6.6 billion last year to $16.7 billion in 2005, according to Gartner's Dataquest unit, it's fair to ask: How much of that will be spent on redundant software that users buy because they're locked into particular arrays?

Well, maybe not as much in the future as they do now, for two reasons.

First, in January, Hitachi, Inrange Technologies, IBM, StorageTek and Veritas completed interoperability testing on two jointly developed SAN products registered with the Storage Networking Industry Association.

Second, technology at the switch level, from start-up switch companies such as Pirus Networks for SANs and 7|10 Storage Software using a file system approach, should provide management regardless of device.

If storage vendors don't move from testing to implementation of storage management standards quickly (helping users simplify administration and reduce overhead), users will have the same jaundiced view of vendor interoperability claims that they have of vendors' "interoperability" demos. Pimm Fox is US Computerworld's West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at pimm_fox@computerworld.com.

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