Storage vendors: ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’

Chief technology officers from storage giants such as EMC Corp., Quantum Corp., StorageTek Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. all agree that standards will be needed to create heterogeneous storage-area networks (SAN) that can be efficiently managed; they just don’t agree on how that would happen.

The need for better storage management tools to support a growing and complex number of storage network ports was an almost constant mantra at this week’s Storage Networking World conference in Sunnyvale, Calif.

While EMC Corp. CTO Jim Rothnie wasn’t ready to concede that RAID storage would ever become a commodity, he did say that the future belongs to software and systems running in a heterogeneous environment. That environment, he said, is something being addressed by EMC’s AutoIS suite, an open management software that provides storage administrators one console to view their information resources.

Independent storage consultant and panel moderator Jon Toigo pointed out that Rothnie’s flavor of interoperability was fine – as long as “you buy all EMC equipment to run it.”

Toigo pointed out that there are some 130 vendors of network interface cards, yet all their products support Ethernet. Then he asked rhetorically, “How do you establish a baseline standard in an industry concerned that it might commoditize its products?”

At one point, Steve Morihiro, CTO at Quantum Corp. in Milpitas, Calif., polled the audience to see if they would buy a Web-based browser that controlled their entire storage infrastructure. When few raised their hands, he said, “See, you don’t trust us.

“I would say the better solution around policy-based storage is still stuck in the hands of better standards,” Morihiro said.

One such proposed standard that came up repeatedly as a possible platform for SAN devices to talk to each other was the Common Information Model (CIM). It would create definitions and channels through which manufacturers could integrate components so they can exchange management information.

Adoption of such an industrywide standard could lead to a quantum leap in storage management capabilities, such as device discovery, application and network monitoring and storage allocation.

Between CIM and other standards proposed by the Storage Networking Industry Association, they are all “headed in the right direction,” according to Compaq Computer Corp. CEO Steve Sicola.

“Now I think that’s going to take cooperation between vendors,” Morihiro said.

“The bottom line here is that it’s the Rodney [King] thing: “Can’t we just all get along?” said Randy Chalfant, CTO at Storage Technology Corp. in Louisville, Colo.

“I think if you could wait for standards to address [interoperability], then it will be a wonderful solution for holographic storage,” Rothnie shot back.

But Paul Rutherford, CTO at tape storage vendor ADIC Corp., in Redmond, Wash., pointed to the audience saying, “It used to be that when you showed up at a standards committee, there were users there.” Today, committee meetings are attended only by vendors who can “feel the tension.”