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Users give thumbs up to object storage standard

IBM, EMC and others have developed a standard API for object-based storage systems, a move users said they'd welcome.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A consortium group led by EMC Corp. and IBM submitted a new standard to the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which will lead to a standard interface for object-based storage, learned at Storage Networking World (SNW).

The group, also consisting of Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS), submitted a draft of a new standard called Extended Access Management (XAM) to SNIA earlier this year. Last week, SNIA voted unanimously to accept the standard for consideration, and will work in the coming months to research whether the standard will be appropriate for development of a standard application program interface (API) for object-based storage systems.

Object-based storage is already on the market, in products such as EMC's Centera, which sort and store data using a unique hashing algorithm. With such a system, objects are tagged with meta data identifying them as unique and are only stored once within the system. Object-based storage is also known by the term EMC coined for it, content-addressed storage, or CAS.

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Users at SNW gave the idea an overwhelming thumbs up. "Standards are always good. We need standards in everything," said Jack Garvey, network systems administrator for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "When you have different (proprietary) codes, next thing you know, nothing works with anything. It's great to get everyone on the same page."

Brent Johnson, principal information systems engineer for Qwest Communications, said his shop already uses Centera, but would welcome the opportunity to use object-based storage for more applications.

In particular, Johnson said, the company, which specializes in voice and data communications services, could use CAS in their Call Detail Records application from Cisco Systems Inc., which tracks customer calls to its customer service department.

"As it is right now, I'm probably going to have to pay EMC to write (a CAS interface) for it," Johnson said. "If there were a standard, I could get off-the-shelf software and probably save quite a bit of money."

A standard enabling more applications to be developed to communicate with CAS systems would save him money across the board, Johnson added. He said he currently has 200 terabytes of Oracle database information stuck on primary storage. Allowing CAS systems to store database information, he said, would be a godsend, because of the deduplication of data CAS offers, which he estimates could shave off 15% of his overall storage volume.

"Most importantly, it would save storage costs," he said. "Being able to move that data off primary storage could cut my costs 50%."

Johnson said he would also welcome the opportunity to look at a CAS product from HDS, as his is primarily an HDS shop.

Now that XAM has been accepted for consideration by SNIA, according to the group's marketing and public relations director Winston Hait, the draft will be sent to the Fixed Content Aware Standard Technical Working Group (FCAS-TWG).

"EMC is especially gung ho about this, but the way our organization is designed, we have to review it as a group," Hait said. "We've accepted it as the basis for development as a standard, but we haven't yet decided whether we'll only take one part of it and add it to another specification or create a separate one."

A previous object-based storage standard for SCSI was ratified by another SNIA working group, the Object-Based Storage Devices Technical Working Group (OSD-TWG) in September 2004. The standard allowed drive and components makers to standardize on CAS. The standards development of FCAS-TWG will build on that work, according to the OSD-TWG co-chair Erik Reidel.

Reidel said OSD-TWG chose to standardize on SCSI because it was compatible with a number of different interfaces, including iSCSI, SAS and Fibre Channel. Other interfaces could come next, he said. The API standard being developed by FCAS-TWG, meanwhile, would bring the standards to the application level -- in other words, closer to implementation by end users.

"The hardest thing to do is change lots of peoples' software," Reidel said. "It's better to change the CAS system itself. Open source standards enable more innovation and in the end, benefit everybody."

Meanwhile, EMC made a separate announcement today that it had acquired Colorado-based enterprise report management startup Acartus Inc. Acartus' software archives business documents, such as invoices, statements, billings, transactional summaries and general ledger balance journals. Acartus has a long-standing relationship with EMC as partner with both the EMC Centera and EMC Documentum businesses. EMC said the acquisition was meant to complement its recent acquisition of Captiva Software Corp., which converts paper documents into electronic formats. Both acquisitions, EMC said, are intended to add features to Centera.

Analysts suggested that the move made sense given the SNIA news -- if CAS becomes a standard, the way for EMC to differentiate Centera would be to offer more services and functions on its box than the standard provides.

"In cases like this, the standard becomes the lowest common denominator," said Mike Scott, principal consultant with Infostream Technologies Inc. "Then, vendors differentiate their products by what features they offer beyond it, by what they include behind the API."

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