United we stand?

Maybe not entirely coincidentally, a week after IBM Corp.'s slew of storage announcements, its two biggest competitors -- EMC Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. -- had some big news of their own. The two have reached an agreement that allows each to freely use a number of programming interfaces written by the other in their storage management solutions. This will allow both companies' respective software tools to "control" the other company's line of storage systems.

If this licensing agreement brings to mind the old "How do porcupines mate?" joke, then you're not alone. Both companies freely acknowledge that they will continue to be fierce competitors, and the agreement doesn't equate to HP buying into EMC's WideSky middleware initiative. (By the way, the punch line is, "Very carefully.")And if this agreement sounds like old news, it's because it is -- sort of. EMC and Compaq struck a similar entente cordiale in November 2001. The new agreement encompasses HP's storage lines as well.

Don't hold your breath: EMC and the new HP are not saying they have agreed to modify their storage solutions to facilitate developing centralized management software, but that they'll make it easier for EMC and HP customers to make their systems work together.

Nevertheless, the agreement will facilitate the creation of cross-vendor management solutions that will allow storage administrators to control a heterogeneous storage network from a single console. For instance, according to the two companies, controlling an EMC Symmetrix or Clariion box from HP OpenView Storage Area Manager, or managing an HP storage array from EMC Control Center, should be a no-brainer.

We believe that the announcement is good news for users, too. Customers may have to pay a higher price for integrated management solutions, but that should be less expensive than developing in-house integration -- or worse, using discrete management tools.

Perhaps more important is a commitment by EMC and HP to what they define as "cooperative support," meaning that each company will not drop the support ball on interoperability issues between products. So, next time you can't get your HP or EMC arrays to play nice, just call either one up, and they'll fix it. Or they'll send Accenture, a partner both companies have in common.

And speaking of interoperability, both EMC and HP claim they remain firmly committed to the Bluefin initiative to establish a common standard for monitoring, configuring, and controlling storage resources. In fact, their participation -- both serve as co-chairs -- will likely mean that the proposed Bluefin standard will have an EMC-HP bent to it, and that may not be taken too kindly by others.

All of this makes us wonder where Sun Microsystems stands on the issue.

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