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IBM open source gang missing key players

Jo Maitland, Senior Executive Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. -- IBM unveiled plans at Storage Networking World (SNW) to form an open source community to develop standards-based storage management middleware, something users have demanded for a long time.

The group is working under the project name, Aperi, derived from the Latin word for "to open". The partners so far include Brocade Communication Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., Engenio Information Technologies, Fujitsu Ltd., McData Corp., Network Appliance Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Missing from this list are EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS) and Symantec Corp./Veritas Software Corp.

"It's a good move -- it's the way the industry has to go, my only concern is that there are still going to be different groups, some participating in this one, some in groups elsewhere, and others not participating at all," said Dick Spohrer, a consultant with Maxsult, an IT integrator in Germany.

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IBM's goal, through the community, is to create a single industry standard that would define how to write all the low-level storage management tasks like discovery and topology of devices, and reporting and monitoring of the infrastructure. The community will build upon existing open standards, including the Storage Networking Industry Association's Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), and IBM plans to throw in all the code it has developed in this area.

It believes open source middleware will take this standards development forward by removing barriers to entry for software developers as they don't have to spend time writing all the low-level stuff. Instead, they can focus on developing useful storage applications, which should ultimately be a good thing for users.

Experts at the show seem to agree that it's a positive move by IBM, but until it's backed by all the major hardware players, particularly EMC, it's a nonstarter. "It's ironic that a positive community effort like this ends up pointing to how polarized the industry is … It's probably going to trigger an equally strong reaction on the opposite side," said Urlich Franke, a storage architect in Germany who declined to give his company name. "If EMC's not part of it, that's half the market closed to you," he added.

IBM hopes this won't be for long. "EMC has been invited to join, but they haven't made a decision yet," said Laura Sanders, vice president of TotalStorage products and solutions at IBM.

This was apparently news to EMC. The company claimed it has not received an invite from IBM. It's worth noting EMC made its own attempt to lead an industry group around storage management middleware, called WideSky, but it tanked through lack of support from other hardware companies. EMC gave up on the effort in August 2003, in favor of supporting SMI-S.

Unlike WideSky, IBM's initiative is open source. In other words, the code is freely available to anyone who wants to develop it. Aperi will model IBM's Eclipse project, whose members have created the de facto toolset for Java development. "Some of these people don't even like to be in the same room together," Sanders noted, tangentially referencing the stiff competition in the storage marketplace.

Eclipse uses the Common Public License open source model, which means that anyone can use the code. But if you make changes to it and distribute these changes, you must contribute them back to the community. "It safeguards customers developing proprietary environments, but there's no free-riding for vendors," said Justin Youngblood, business development manager in IBM's Tivoli Software group.

Version 1.0 of the Eclipse Java development tool received 3.1 million downloads in its first year, in 2001. Version 3.1 received one million downloads in the first 40 days of its release, according to Youngblood. IBM has also donated code to the Mozilla browser and a small database used by Apache, called Derby.

"There's no question the company has clout in open source," said Marc Staimer, founder and consultant of Dragon Slayer Consulting. "This is an industry-shaking event -- it hurts EMC and its hurts HP," he said.

For its part, HP just spent close to $300 million acquiring AppIQ Inc., the market leader in heterogeneous, SMI-S-based storage management software. Right before the acquisition, AppIQ launched a program called OpenIQ, with exactly the same remit as IBM's Aperi initiative. OpenIQ, however, is not an open source group. Participating vendors must license AppIQ's software. HP does not draw attention to this fact.

"We are glad IBM is following HP's lead in announcing an open community initiative to establish a standard platform for advanced, heterogeneous storage management applications," said Frank Harbist, vice president and general manager of information lifecycle management and storage software at HP, in an e-mail to SearchStorage.com.

The message continued: "While we welcome IBM's efforts to make HP's proposed model stronger, we don't understand why IBM has skipped over the necessary first step of defining a specification, and instead has moved directly to suggesting an implementation and a business model. And we don't believe another project is needed to drive standards, since this appears to be based on IBM's own technology under the guise of open source. We view this largely as a public relations stunt that will not deliver value to customers."

During a press conference announcing Aperi at SNW, IBM said that it was still working out the details on the levels of participation from its partners, regarding code sharing, engineering expertise and financial backing. While these details have yet to be ironed out, IBM at least has some support, which is more than can be said for HP's OpenIQ program.

Users of Sun's StorEdge Enterprise Storage Management suite, which integrates AppIQ's StorageAuthority software, should take note that Sun has joined IBM's initiative but has not backed OpenIQ. This doesn't bode well for the future of its Enterprise Storage Management product based on the AppIQ's technology.

The Aperi consortium will announce details about the organization, including the multi-vendor board of directors soon, IBM officials said.

In more standards new at SNW, IBM and EMC are working together on pushing a standard for object-based storage. For more on this story, click here.

Related Topics: Storage vendors, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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