What are they thinking?

What are they thinking?

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What are they thinking?

There's a certain level of paranoia among storage vendors and I think it's starting to affect me. Here's what I'm paranoid about: How come, just when the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is announcing standards for open storage management, big vendors are busy signing agreements to swap proprietary APIs?

Why does this make me paranoid? Because I fear that companies like HP/Compaq, IBM, and Hitachi Data Systems may be hedging their bets on open management. EMC, of course, is clearly doing that with WideSky. Their argument: Customers need it now - and who knows when CIM/Bluefin/acronym of the month will be ready?

Customers needed it two years ago. Where were you guys then?

But here's the real mystery. Many of the champions of standards say, in effect, "Who knows when standards will be mature?" To which I say, "You do!" We're not talking about the IMF, the U.N., Saddam Hussein, or the IRS. This is a small circle of big companies - what's the hold up, guys?

The stock answer lately has been: "We're learning more about each other's stuff through these API swaps and that'll make for a better standard." How about putting it all on the table in the standards committees? Maybe that would make for a quicker standard. It makes me wonder whether HP/Compaq - which has recently signed agreements with IBM and HDS - is more interested in checkmating EMC's WideSky than in getting to standards.

Lastly, why should users invest money in products that have a shelf life of a year - at best - if standards do come through? It's hard to believe the happy talk that switching from management software-based on API exchanges to standards-based stuff will be invisible - there are bound to be differences in form and function. I'm paranoid that they're hedging their bets, seeing if they can still use management software as at least a bit of a lock-in to protect their hardware sales.

So, if you have any interest at all in heterogeneous storage management, hold your array and management software vendors' feet to the fire, before you get burnt.

Now, for paranoid fear No. 2: the possibility of a Beta vs. VHS war between Fibre Channel (FC) and iSCSI. When the smart, innovative guys at Brocade take a consistently nonchalant attitude toward IP storage, it worries me that they and other FC vendors think they can actually freeze IP out of the picture.

Not likely, in my opinion. It's too easy for you to try out IP storage at low risk. And there are too many places where FC is too much - money, time and expertise - and IP is already in use. At least, I think a lot of storage managers will feel that way and they want vendors to help them implement that vision.

So my plea to FC vendors: You can't beat 'em, so join 'em. Coexistence will be the order of the day for several years (maybe even coexistence dominated by FC). Tell your shareholders that and get over it. Otherwise, user environments will get needlessly complicated - or completely "Ciscoed" - and you'll be left trying to watch the highlights of your 2000 shareholders meeting on Betamax.

This was first published in October 2002

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