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By Salvatore Salamone

October 15, 2002 | Recent announcements by Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. promise to make management of multibrand storage products easier, but still leave vendors at odds over an industrywide standard for managing mixed environments.

First off, HP and IBM announced a technology cross-licensing agreement aimed at making their storage management systems interoperable.  

“Interoperability is one of the biggest concerns we hear from customers today,” says Brian Truskowski, chief technology officer for IBM’s storage systems group. This newly announced cooperative effort is one move by HP and IBM to help simplify management in a mixed environment, but the companies are also playing up their support for storage industry standards. Both companies say the technology sharing agreement is a stepping stone to future management products based on Bluefin and the Common Information Model (CIM), which are storage industry efforts to make products interoperable.

Some life science managers, while expressing interest in the longer-term standards work, want more vendor-to-vendor cooperation like the HP-IBM agreement. According to Ralph Billows, a manager at a Midwest pharmaceutical company, says “Interoperability only goes so far. We have storage equipment for several companies, and I would rather have the companies develop one-to-one relationships where I can manage two or three vendors’ storage devices from a single console.”

That’s exactly what the HP-IBM agreement deals with. Specifically, the companies will license each other’s storage application programming interfaces (APIs) and command line interfaces (CLIs). The result being that if a company already uses HP OpenView storage management software to manage its HP storage devices, the same software could be used to manage IBM’s TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server systems. Conversely, if a company uses storage management software from IBM, the same software could be used to manage HP’s StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array and Enterprise Modular Array storage systems.

Billows does not use this mix of IBM and HP equipment but says that this is exactly the type of integrated management he desires. “The CIM and Bluefin standards efforts are interesting, but who knows how long it will take for interoperable products to be widely available. When two vendors use each other’s APIs and do the work themselves to make sure -- out of the box -- you can manage both companies’ equipment from one management system, that’s much more useful to me.”

Mixed environments are quite common because  many companies have bought storage on a departmental basis and now are  centrally managing their storage systems. Also,  when storage systems are centrally purchased and managed, some companies use  SANs equipment from one vendor and back-up tape systems from another. Most large companies have  such a mixed environment.

As a result,  cross-management capabilities are increasingly  common. For example, EMC and IBM have worked together so that IBM’s Tivoli Storage Manager can be use with EMC’s CLARiiON backup storage systems.

Not everyone agrees that one-off APIs as with the HP/ IBM pact is the way to go.  Sun Microsystems recently announced Sun StorEdge Enterprise Storage Manager (ESM), which is software for managing storage area networks (SANs). ESM is CIM- and Web Based Enterprise Management-compliant. Sun believes standards compliance, unlike proprietary API exchanges (i.e., the HP-IBM approach), will enable users to more easily deploy new storage products.

Some storage industry experts echo that sentiment. “Open standards are essential in chaotic storage environments,” says Steve Kenniston, an analyst at storage consultancy the Enterprise Storage Group.

In addition to being standards-compliant, ESM combines three management functions -- SAN topology reporting, storage device configuration, and health monitoring and diagnostics -- into one administrative console.

The integration of these separate functions into a single centralized system makes it easier for administrators to view and manage their storage systems. For instance, if the health monitoring system detects that a storage server is almost full, a manager could configure the SAN so that more capacity is allocated to the group using that server. According to Sun, this can be particularly helpful to life science managers who are constantly juggling the data storage demands of various groups within their own company.

ESM’s health monitoring and diagnostic system can be used not just to detect problems as they occur, but also to identify potential problems before they take a system down. For instance, “a [storage device] might display some characteristics of going offline,” says Steve Guido, executive vice president of Sun’s storage group. “The diagnostic test capability will determine there is something potentially wrong and alert the manager. At the same time, the system can recognize the characteristics of some commonly occurring problems and dig into the Sun support service database.” If the support database has information about the specific problem, possible fixes to that problem would be presented to manager.

ESM is available now, and pricing starts at $15,000. Sun is also working with storage partners like Hitachi Data Systems on standards-based storage management products.


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