Storage interoperability remains an elusive goal

With the slowdown in global economies and the market's irrational exuberance in the dustbin, information systems professionals have to reconsider their investments in storage systems.

Research firm, Gartner Inc. believes that organizations are growing their storage at rates of 50 percent to 150 percent per year. In this way, by the end of 2006, they will have installed five times more the amount of storage than they have today.

Currently, every storage product that is bought by a company will have its own proprietary management interface that cannot be used to manage other storage products that may be in the company's existing infrastructure.

With networked storage, the problem is getting devices of mass storage from different vendors to work together. Therefore, the successful development of open industry standards presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce the time, effort, and cost of delivering management tools for heterogeneous networked environments.

Said Steven Coad, general manager, EMC Asean: "EMC research shows that ensuring interoperable network storage environments accounts for up to 15 percent of today's IT expenditure. For organizations, the interoperability problem is expressed in delayed implementations, unstable IT environments and significant personnel time dedicated to testing and integration efforts."

In this respect, bigger storage players such as IBM, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Veritas and Sun Microsystems are working together to develop the Bluefin specification, which will be a standard interface designed for specific tasks common to the management of multi-vendor storage networks.

The Bluefin specification will use the proposed Common Information Model (CIM) and the proposed Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) technologies. The goal of the project is to accelerate the definition of CIM to address basic functions of discovery and monitoring of storage arrays and SAN (storage area network) devices and mapping the relationships between these storage components.

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has formally endorsed the Bluefin initiative and has renamed it as the Storage Management Initiative (SMI). SNIA, a non-profit organization, will supervise the completion and extension of the specification, and push for it to become a formal standard.

This means that different vendors can use one common model to allow their storage devices and storage applications, to communicate with one another.

The ultimate objective for this interface is to create interoperability, increase customer satisfaction, accelerate the time-to-market of vendor products, and more rapidly expand the total market for SANs.

Said Tom Zack, vice president of Product Marketing, Asia Pacific International Americas, Hitachi Data Systems, "Critics will argue that this is not enough and that it is taking too long. We believe that the CIM specification is moving very fast and such solutions are expected to be delivered very soon."

In this way, businesses will have more choices when they prepare for their future storage needs. Said Richard Lim, regional director, Iomega Pacific, "Companies will be able to then identify storage solutions which are easy to use, easy to deploy and expandable with business needs."

Additionally, several vendors such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), HDS, IBM and EMC are also taking the approach of trading APIs (application programming interfaces) and cross-licensing their technologies to ensure their products work together.

This approach solves the immediate interoperability problems for the immediate term quickly rather than waiting for an industry group to agree on standards and for member companies to implement those standards. On the other hand, Computer Associates has introduced Instrumentation Technology or iTechnology. ITechnology is the instrumentation layer that sits between the devices and applications that need to be managed and the central management console, said Tony Lim, consulting director - Field Services Group, Computer Associates Asean.

Generally, standardization will create larger markets, which means more opportunity for everyone.

But before that day comes, information systems executives should make sure that the solutions they want to invest in guarantee the specific interoperability they need before signing on the dotted line.

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