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Storage giants square up to build standards

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The storage world is still digesting the news that Aperi will now develop under the auspices of the Eclipse Foundation.

The announcement came hot on the heels of news of Sun's defection from the Aperi project to join a rival effort to create standards for storage management interfaces.

IBM's statement on Aperi says:

By using open, standards-based storage systems and management software, customers can choose from a greater range of storage products and eliminate the need to "rip and replace" storage management software. This lowers the cost of managing storage technology and reduces training requirements for storage operations teams.

For the record, the full participant roster now stands at: IBM, Brocade, Cisco, CA, Engenio, Fujitsu, McData, NetApp, and Novell.

IBM, Fujitsu, and McData are donating big chunks of storage management code to Eclipse. The rest are likely lending their support to ensure their products comply with the results.

Storage is, of course, the last of the big sections of the IT infrastructure where the link between the hardware you buy and the software you have to use remains pretty well intact.

Jim Stallings, vice president of intellectual property and standards at IBM, said in a conference call: "One of the last pillars of proprietary technology is about to fall. You're now witnessing the convergence of open source and storage."

The Aperi project's destiny is by no means clear. For all its big names Aperi represents less than half the overall storage market. No HP, no Hitachi, no EMC and now no Sun. Together with Symantec, those four have set up a rival to Aperi. The "Gang of Five", as the anti-Aperi group have been called, are also seeking implement SMI-S, the Storage Networking Industry Association's schema to standardise software interfaces.

Aperi's move to an Eclipse open source model is being seen as a bid to accelerate development toward SMI-S specifications. Byte and Switch reports that IBM Tivoli marketing manager Jamie Gruener said: "We've identified the idea that you need some level of standards around that project. This will really help foster and accelerate that standard. This is a non-political forum. It's open to any vendor who wants to join."

Techworld reports that SNIA's European chair Paul Talbut explained: "The [SNIA] is developing the specification standard for storage management interoperability i.e. a document, while Aperi aims to create the code."

HP says its Storage Essentials line is already ahead of Aperi in supporting SMI-S. He told Techworld: "HP Storage Essentials has passed all 4 categories of SMI-S test cases: array, fabric, HBA, and switch."

"IBM claims Aperi will work with SNIA to establish its code as a reference implementation of SMI-S. But the code that IBM is donating hasn't even passed the full battery of SMI-S 1.0.2 compliance tests."

It's pretty well accepted that HP is indeed further along the road to full SMI-S compliance. IBM and friends will be hoping the open source model can put a rocket up their own effort.

With everyone aware of the growth forecast in the storage market, all the players know the stakes are high. For their customers, the big players battling it out should be a good thing; competition will accelerate the development of standards. If both make it to market, a price war could bring savings to swelling storage budgets.

The only worry would be backing the betamax of storage APIs. ®

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