SANs open up to sharing

Storage industry moving toward open-systems management

Manufacturers of storage area networks are finally coming around to the idea that open-systems management software could be good for business.

SANs traditionally have been managed by proprietary management software designed to handle a single vendor's storage array. Network managers knew they were in for a big headache if they wanted to manage multivendor SAN configurations.

One vendor's management software generally wouldn't work with another's hardware unless the internal application program interface (API) for the second vendor's system was built in. Until recently, most storage companies shuddered at the thought of sharing any of their proprietary product information, including APIs, with anybody else.

But buyers of high-end SAN hardware have begun to balk at being locked into expensive proprietary products that won't work with anybody else's. As a result, storage manufacturers like EMC Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have changed their management software strategies.
EMC's WideSky, a middleware application, creates a communications and coordination layer between EMC management software and other companies' hardware platforms.

Sun calls its plan an open, integrated and automated storage management family. Storage ONE will include Sun's StorEdge software and those of some other manufacturers. IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are exploring similar open-systems architectures.

Note that we are talking about architectures, not software products here. These companies all claim their underlying architectures will bring open integration, service-level automation and differentiated platform support to users of a wide variety of hardware and software.

Meanwhile, a handful of start-up companies are aiming to cash in on a storage management market expected to generate revenues of up to $5.3 billion annually by next year. BakBone Software Inc.'s new NetVault 6.5.1 is an open-systems storage system with high levels of applications support, configuration flexibility and the ability to scale hundreds of terabytes of storage. It supports all major operating systems, major enterprise applications such as Oracle, SAP, DB2, Lotus and Microsoft SQL Server, and network storage topologies including SAN, network-attached storage, IP Storage, Network Data Management Protocol and storage over IP.

New cooperative attitude

SANsymphony 5.0 by DataCore Software Corp. is another open-systems software manager that powers most operating systems, storage subsystems and architectures over Fibre Channel, IP, Ethernet and hybrid connections.

Does open-systems management really work? Even the big players seem to think so. A group of vendors, including HP and Brocade Communications Systems Inc., recently joined EMC and Sun at the Storage Networking Industry Association to showcase an open-systems network storage configuration.

Using storage equipment from more than a dozen manufacturers, the demonstration used the Common Information Model (CIM) and Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM) technology to conduct high-end storage management tasks such as volume management, logical unit number mapping and event monitoring.

The CIM model is independent of hardware or software platforms and transport protocols, and works entirely over the Internet. It acts as a management superset of the network's storage hardware and software.

Should you scrap your SAN vendor's proprietary management software if you are using a single-vendor SAN solution? Of course not. Users of Dot Hill Systems Corp.'s SANscape 2.4, Brocade's Fabric OS 2.6.0c, Gadzoox Networks Inc.'s Ventana SAN Manager 3.0 and Xiotech Corp.'s REDI Storage Manager 2.0 report good results from the management programs bundled with the hardware.

There's still something to be said for management software tailored to the needs of a company's own equipment. And in the spirit of open systems, many of them are developing software links with other vendors' products and sharing APIs and specifications.

But as time goes on, the model of open-systems software that will allow customers to manage multivendor products within a single management application is likely to prevail over proprietary single-vendor solutions.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at [email protected].

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