EMC’s AutoIS program under fire

EMC Corp.’s highly prudent, selective approach to trading its storage subsystem application program interfaces (APIs) with its competitors could impede what experts generally regard as the most likely program to become a de facto storage management standard, EMC’s fledgling AutoIS program.

Introduced last October as the crown jewel of EMC’s drive to become the world’s leading storage software vendor, the ultimate goal of AutoIS is to eventually be able to manage any heterogeneous, mixed-vendor storage network using a single EMC storage management framework.

The baseline for the success of AutoIS is EMC’s ability to gather storage APIs from as many different storage hardware companies as possible, both friend and foe alike. Using those collected APIs in middleware called Widesky, EMC’s suite of AutoIS storage management software will effectively be able to control a vast range of third-party storage devices.

In fairness, company’s that trade APIs with EMC get EMC APIs in return, enabling them to develop storage management software that runs EMC equipment, according to EMC.

Behind the scenes however, AutoIS has come under fire, with storage companies like IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hitachi Ltd. each crying foul, claiming that AutoIS is merely another proprietary storage product from EMC dressed in open-standards clothing.

“We’ve been trying to trade (APIs) with EMC, it’s an open offer, but we’ve had no luck,” said Mark Canepa, the executive vice-president for storage products with Sun in Burlington, Mass.

Canepa criticized EMC for over-complicating the API swapping component of AutoIS and for appearing to only want to trade APIs on EMC’s terms. “We would like all the hardware interfaces open,” he said.

An IBM representative who preferred not to be named was equally harsh on EMC’s AutoIS program.

“We are not talking to EMC about their AutoIS campaign, or exchanging APIs. Open standards are a good thing, but they are a good thing when they are available to the entire industry and not controlled by a single company,” the IBM representative said, adding that an effort like AutoIS should be overseen by a impartial industry body like SNIA (the Storage Networking Industry Association). The overarching condition for swapping API’s with EMC is “like functionality for like functionality,” said Don Swatik, the vice-president of alliances and information services with EMC, based in Hopkinton, Mass.

“Our opinion on APIs is very simple, we will trade with any competitor like functionality for like functionality. That does not mean all of our APIs for all of their APIs,” said Swatik.

But in judging functionality, EMC clearly sees itself as the stronger suitor, a self image that lets EMC be picky as to who it trades APIs with, while giving it the confidence to hand over API’s to competitors like Compaq which traded storage APIs with EMC in November.

Of EMC’s pickyness in dealing with APIs, Don Young, an industry analyst at investment bank UBS Warburg in New York, said “the only change we would like to see is more open publication of APIs. The horse trading in APIs that EMC is pursuing appears to us to be a selective open approach.”

Compaq Computer Corp. appears to be satisfied with last month’s storage API swap with EMC, but recognizes that it will now have to compete against EMC and AutoIS with Compaq Storage Works software. With EMC’s Symmetrix APIs and EMC’s Clariion APIs, which will be available in 2002, Compaq can sell software that manages EMC’s top-tier equipment, but the Houston-based computer maker will have to go head-to-head with AutoIS, which now controls Compaq hardware.

“I think in terms of the APIs and what they gave us access to are fair in trade,” said Don Langeberg, the director of marketing for storage software solutions at Compaq.

“Frankly, I’m not terribly concerned at all (of software competition from AutoIS). What we are finding is that when we go head-to-head with EMC in their open environment we win a very big share of the deals,” said Langeberg.

Sun officials said they would at the very least like to have a shot at competing with EMC on even ground, with both company’s APIs in each others hands. But Ray Dunn, the manager of the business development organization in storage software for Sun said a history of such attempts with EMC have all fallen to pieces.

Dunn said that about two years ago, while he was the director of partner development for HighGround Systems, EMC and HighGround entered negotiations to trade HighGround’s Storage Resource Management APIs for EMC’s Symmetrix APIs. According to Dunn, while EMC provided APIs to HighGround for development purposes, a second set of licenses were required from EMC to actually use the Symmetrix APIs in a HighGround product.

The expense of the secondary licenses from EMC tied HighGround’s hands, said Dunn, but the deal was called off anyway after HighGround was purchased by Sun in December of 2000.

“Then EMC called me and asked for some other technology they wanted from Sun,” said Dunn. “I said ‘you closed a lot of doors by the way you treated HighGround. If you want something from us, what you need to do is offer us something we can work with.’ Then (EMC) offered us the Clariion APIs when they come out in 2002, but the Symmetrix APIs were what we are working to.”

At that point, Dunn told EMC negotiators that he and Sun felt cheated by the fact that EMC had entered an API swapping deal with Compaq. EMC replied by saying “the APIs they had given to Compaq were restricted,” said Dunn.

Compaq denied that the APIs received from EMC were restricted in any way. Likewise, EMC’s Swatik said EMC had done away with the second-tier licensing requirement for its storage APIs.

“Of all the people we have talked to (about swapping APIs), Sun has been the least reasonable,” said Swatik, who went on to imply that Sun may not possess the caliber of storage technology EMC is interested in.

“There is a very interesting corollary between willingness to swap APIs and the capabilities of what they have with their APIs. With Compaq, the key reason (we swapped) was that Compaq had substance in their APIs and something to swap. There are others out there, and we have reason to believe that the people making the biggest noises in their marketing departments don’t have the technology underneath,” said Swatik.

Then there is the Hitachi factor. Hitachi recently struck a deal for Sun to resell the Hitachi Lightning 9900 storage system as the Sun StorEdge 9900, a high-end sub-system that gives Sun’s enterprise customers an option over EMC.

Dunn said EMC attempted to leverage their relationship by agreeing to work closer with Sun if Dunn could somehow broker a deal between Hitachi and EMC, but Dunn felt EMC wasn’t working “in good faith,” so negotiations once again broke down.

Hitachi officials are sensitive to the issue of trading APIs with EMC and are presently in direct negotiations with EMC to potentially do just that.

“We are in discussion with EMC,” said Steve East, the vice-president of application development for Hitachi Data Systems Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif. “The API exchange with competitors is a minefield. It’s about providing your capabilities through the eyes of someone else.”

EMC has said openly that part of the allure of AutoIS to potential customers if the fact that even if third-party vendors do not provide APIs for Widesky, EMC will gain control of those third-party storage systems by tapping into the system’s command line interface.

East is aware that EMC will play aggressively to get what it wants, and said “I’ve had multiple reports from sales teams that EMC is saying they already have (Hitachi) APIs.”

But in light of current negotiations between Hitachi and EMC, East said “I want to send a positive message.”

John McArthur, the vice-president of storage research for International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., said EMC is playing hardball with AutoIS because the company has taken a huge gamble in trying to remake itself just as much of a successful storage software company as it is a leader in storage hardware.

“For EMC, to be successful as a software supplier independent of their hardware business, is an absolute necessity, but not an easy thing. There will be a lot of relationships where there is mistrust on both parts,” McArthur said.

EMC is aggressively pursuing its storage software product strategy, spending 75 per cent of its R&D budget on storage software, or almost US$200 million a quarter, according to EMC.

EMC Corp. is at http://www.emc.com

Sun Microsytems of Canada in Markham, Ont., is at http://www.sun.ca

Compaq Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont., is at http://www.compaq.ca Hitcachi Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., is at http://www.hitachi.ca