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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

The storage industry's only non-proprietary attempt at cross-vendor interoperability picked up major momentum yesterday with the surprise surfacing of Bluefin, a hitherto undercover effort to create a universal storage management specification.

Based on the emerging storage extensions to the existing CIM/WEBM standard, Bluefin has juggernaut industry support. It marks a major step in the productizing and development of the CIM storage extensions, which are maturing very rapidly. Its aim, like the CIM storage extensions, is to enable storage management tools that can handle a range of cross-vendor products.

Bluefin is a specification of how those extensions should be used. One supplier yesterday described the extensions as a pack of playing cards and Bluefin as the rules of a set of games which can be played with the cards. Bluefin includes methods for completing key tasks such as discovering CIM object managers located in networks, and applying locks to public resources being shared by multiple systems. An insider at the Storage Networking Industry Association insider who did not want to be named said: "Developers don't want standards, they want development specifications - and that is what Bluefin is."

The lack of cross-vendor tools is a major pre-occupation of the storage industry at present, because it is costing customers a great deal in terms of storage management overheads and staffing , and so is diverting money which might otherwise be spent on products. Every supplier has at least paid lip-service to the issue, which has also spawned proprietary software efforts such as EMC's WideSky middleware.

CIM is an object-oriented specification originally developed by the Desktop Management Taskforce - DMTF - to define the format of data being passed between systems management tools and the objects they manage. Over the past few years it has been extended with new data definitions focused on storage management. Bluefin was created by an organization calling itself the Partner Development Program which comprises seventeen suppliers in the storage industry, including EMC, IBM, Hitachi, Brocade, Veritas, Hewlett Packard, Sun, QLogic, Dell, Emulex and StorageTek.

In terms of implementing Bluefin, Sun is likely to be the first. Already heavily involved in CIM, which it promises will be implemented in its T3 storage arrays this summer, Sun said it will ship Bluefin-based products in the third quarter this year. Hewlett Packard said it "expects" to ship Bluefin products this year. HP's support this year may not be extensive however, as the company said that Bluefin is far from completed as a specification. EMC made the same statement about Bluefin's readiness when it said it has not yet set a date when it will ship Bluefin-supporting hardware.

Although Bluefin is very much based on CIM, it should be considered as going beyond mere CIM, at least according to Phil Kemp, HP's worldwide product marketing manager for SAN management. "Fibre Channel wasn't useful until somebody sat down and wrote a specification which said "this is how you do it." CIM only gets you so far, and Bluefin tells you what you need to do with it," he said.

The Bluefin specification has now been handed to SNIA. From here there are two options for ratification of Bluefin - either SNIA hands it on to an organization such as the Desktop Management Taskforce, or SNIA itself becomes accredited with a standards organization such as ANSI.

Bluefin has been a well-kept secret during its eighteen-month term. Clod Barrera, IBM's director of systems strategy and architecture for IBM, said: "A certain amount of incubation has to happen for any technology. This isn't uncommon - it's what happened with iSCSI. We believe now is the right time to launch Bluefin, although there was a lot of debate about it." That timing had to be late enough allow Bluefin to be developed enough to stand on its own two flippers, but not too late, otherwise it might have been too developed and so would deter other companies from making contributions to the specification.

The CIM object model was first defined by the Desktop Management Taskforce, in order to standardize the format of data used by systems management tools. WEBM is an IP-based standard by which CIM-formatted data is transported between management tools and the systems or objects they manage.

Although the CIM storage extensions have been in existence for some time, they have been evolving and are poised for what could soon be widespread adoption. The next set of extensions to be ratified around the end of the year will cover volume management, device configuration, and Fibre Channel networking. Before the surprise surfacing of Bluefin yesterday, these end-of-year extensions to CIM were already set for serious consideration by storage management tools developers.

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