Analysis: Can EMC solve the storage management dilemma?

EMC's storage management initiative may establish a de facto management standard in a market that has resisted standardization for the past 30 years.

The current surge in data storage growth underscores the need for more robust storage management solutions. Such solutions must accomplish the following goals: to provide simple management and administration of the growing number of heterogeneous storage devices, and to do so in a cost-effective way.

EMC takes vendor-independent middleware approach

A part of EMC's Auto IS strategy is ControlCenter/Open Edition. This software product is used to manage the vendor's own arrays as well as third-party storage. Indeed, even the vendor describes the solution as the extension of its own management technology to the open environment.

Architecturally, EMC ControlCenter/Open Edition has few surprises. A "central management point" provides access to software plug-ins that are organized into three categories:

  • Data Mobility and Abstraction: tools for moving and replicating data.
  • Storage Resource Management: tools for monitoring resources and their utilization, for provisioning storage to applications, and for measuring performance to facilitate storage as a service.
  • Data Availability and Recovery: tools for data protection and storage recovery.

The all-important component of AutoIS is beneath this layer of software functionality: EMC WideSky, described by the vendor as "the industry's first storage management middleware technology."

WideSky is not a sudden innovation. Over the years, EMC has done an enormous amount of work developing interfaces that would allow storage management products preferred by their customers to "work and play" with EMC's own management software. This storage management middleware, through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs), provides a convenient means for independent software vendors to hitch their proverbial wagon to EMC's star and to enable their hardware and software products for use within an EMC environment.

With WideSky, EMC is opening its architecture and facilitating a collaborative standard for the integration of multi-vendor storage software and hardware products. The story doesn't stop with the integration of third-party products with EMC hardware and management, however. The stated goal is ultimately to provide WideSky as a means to manage storage, whether it includes EMC hardware or not. In other words, EMC's WideSky creates a consistent mechanism for accessing a wide variety of storage, networking connectivity elements, and storage resource mapping systems.

Jon Toigo

Implementing management capabilities can be a daunting challenge, however -- particularly in heterogeneous storage settings (those mixing storage platforms from different vendors). It becomes increasingly so, as organizations deploy networked storage topologies side-by-side with traditional server-attached storage platforms.

The state of storage management software

The main problem is that few open standards for storage management exist. Where they do, many vendors have shown only "spotty" interest in implementing them for use in their products. Some vendors make the case that available open standards are too generic to be of much use in managing the special features and functions of their platforms. Others offer a somewhat more self-serving explanation, arguing that their proprietary management solutions offer greater functionality than do standards-based approaches -- albeit in a homogeneous storage infrastructure comprised exclusively of their products.

The absence of an open standards-based approach for storage management has seen the rise of numerous "point" management software products and a half-dozen management "frameworks" in the market. Systems administrators and storage managers have typically selected from these products the best available mix and created a management toolkit that was more a "quiver of arrows" than a single integrated solution.

In general, current management framework products may be viewed collectively as a "kludge": a work-around used by enterprise IT managers and storage administrators until something better can be found, or until the entire community of storage vendors adopts a universal management standard and instruments their platforms accordingly.

The latter is not expected to occur anytime soon. Despite widespread storage vendor statements of endorsement for standards such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the Common Interface Model (CIM) development effort at the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA), the prospects that they will enable all storage devices for management via these standards remain bleak.

EMC's "secret sauce" approach

On the other hand, an industry leading storage vendor, EMC Corp., has taken a new tack on the problem that may break the log jam of effective storage management. The company is endeavoring to spin off software products for use by both EMC and non-EMC customers that are based on the "secret sauce" capabilities that earned the vendor its current leadership position in the market. It is EMC's clear hegemony in the enterprise storage market -- its "brand name recognition" within the storage world -- that gives the new software strategy wheels.

EMC's storage management architecture and software solution may do for storage management what Microsoft Windows did for personal computing: Establish a de facto management standard in a market that has resisted standardization for the past 30 years.

From 50,000 feet, the EMC approach has several obvious strengths. It is a framework that doesn't labor under the central constraint that has limited the efficacy of other framework products in the market -- namely, the need for the framework vendor to garner the on-going cooperation of third-party hardware and software vendors to facilitate their customers with management capabilities. EMC is simply including its initiative, dubbed WideSky, as part of EMC ControlCenter/Open Integration Components. This means WideSky will be included in all EMC ControlCenter management products as part of this release. It is up to the hardware or software vendors to enable their products for integration with WideSky. Their incentive for doing so is to gain traction in a market where EMC storage enjoys a strong presence.

EMC is calling WideSky the Storage Management Middleware. While the effort will likely find critics among long-standing EMC competitors, the truth is that EMC, with its current market position, is uniquely positioned to offer its management framework as a de facto standard. The strategy is the vendor's first foray into the platform-independent software market and will hopefully set the stage for the delivery of other software products developed by the industry giant for use across the heterogeneous environments increasingly present in most business enterprises.

EMC introduced WideSky in October 2001. The initial offering will support comprehensive management of traditional EMC platform components, including Symmetrix and CLARiiON arrays, Celerra, and switch products including EMC's own Connectrix, and those of partners Brocade, McData and QLogic. Storage software products already enabled for use with WideSky include: EMC ControlCenter/Open Edition, EMC ControlCenter StorageScope and EMC ControlCenter Replication Manager.

This release is able to discover various third-party storage platforms such as those from Compaq, Hitachi/HP/Sun, NetApp and IBM. In these days of budgetary belt-tightening and the need to manage more storage with fewer hands, it is quite possible that customers will drive their preferred vendors to cooperate with the EMC WideSky initiative.

In the final analysis, a de facto management standard may not be preferable to an open standard, but storage customers, desperate for an effective storage management solution that can be implemented immediately, may be well-served by the EMC solution.

About the author: Jon William Toigo has authored hundreds of articles on storage and technology and is one of our searchStorage experts on storage management issues. Toigo is also the author of storage books, including, "The Holy Grail of Data Storage Management."

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