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Despite industry squabbles, users optimistic for SMI-S

After Sun's exit from Aperi, IBM said it's folding the open source storage group into its Eclipse Foundation; users remain patient with SMI-S, despite industry infighting.

The drama continues when it comes to SMI-S, the developing standard for storage management that has provoked a host of shifts and rifts in alliances among vendors over the last year -- and especially over the last week.

Following last week's announcement by Sun Microsystems Inc. that it was dropping out of IBM's Aperi open standards storage group, citing IBM's "lack of true commitment to collaboration," the plot thickened with news from IBM that it plans to fold Aperi into its other open source group, the Eclipse Foundation.

According to William Hurley, senior analyst with the Data Mobility Group, this week's announcement from IBM is not coincidental to Sun's withdrawal from Aperi.

"The Aperi collapse, at least from Sun's position, has more to do with the Eclipse requirement than tepid support and follow through from the Aperi group," he said in an email to IBM and Sun have battled in the past over Eclipse's development of Java, which originated with Sun, and for which Sun has a competing development group, NetBeans.

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Both IBM and Sun remained mum on this connection. "Sun's only comment is -- as outlined in the press release -- that Sun made an independent decision to withdraw from Aperi based on its belief that this type of initiative should be governed under SNIA [Storage Networking Industry Association]," Mathew Small, bite public relations for Sun, wrote in an email.

"I'm not going to comment on that," said Jamie Gruener, market manager, IBM Tivoli. "It's perplexing to us what transpired."

"It's like a bunch of eighth graders trying to sort out whose ball it is and who's going to play with it," said Tom Dugan, director of technical services for Recovery Networks, a backup outsourcing firm.

But as much as he chuckles at the business politics, Dugan said, he remains optimistic that they have a real and valuable purpose.

"Not tomorrow, not this year -- there's a process here, a human process," he said. "You have to go through these games before you get some kind of result. But in the long run, SMI-S is good for the world."

Dugan compared it to several other standards that also had fractious beginnings, like XML or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), where companies began developing products before a standard was finished.

"People couldn't wait," he said. "Now there are two VoIP standards -- I expect to see something like that. There'll be a ferreting out process for a couple years before something meaty really falls out of SMI-S."

But in the long run, he said, standards are the ideal. "It would be good to be able to get low-cost SATA arrays for some things and high-cost Fibre Channel SANs [storage area networks] for others and have a way to communicate better between them regardless of what vendor they came from," he said.

Dugan is far from alone in looking forward to a storage management standard. "Where I'd really like to see convergence would be in the SAN space," said Pethuraj Perumal, IT manager and backup team leader at Synopsys Inc., a software development company. "That's why we are primarily a NAS [network attached storage] shop -- because different SAN's don't interoperate. So we standardized using NFS [Network File System]."

"It doesn't matter who it comes from -- if it does what it says it's going to do and the price point is right, we have a preference for open source," said Roy Richardson, a systems administrator at a Fortune 500 company who requested not be named for legal reasons. Richardson said his company already uses Big Brother, open source software that is currently controlled by Qwest Software Inc. in much the same way Red Hat Inc. administers Linux, to monitor its servers and network.

With Big Brother, he said, the key advantage is that the source code is available. "You can literally remove features you don't want," he said. "You can get away from bloated software and make a slim, custom version for yourself."

Like Dugan, Richardson said he remained interested in SMI-S and optimistic that it could still be successful, regardless of whether a vendor develops it or which vendor develops it in the end.

"Some pieces of software do become the de facto standard, regardless of whether they were proprietary, like Adobe [Systems Inc.] Acrobat for .pdf files," Richardson said.

"Customer interest in this is still high," said Gruener. "And the Eclipse Foundation has a significant track record with open source."

Gruener is referring to Version 1.0 of the Eclipse Java development tool, which 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. IBM has also donated code to the Mozilla browser and a small database used by Apache Digital Corp., called Derby.

IBM also announced this week that Novell Inc. has joined the community, bringing the total number of Aperi members to 10 companies. Novell joins Brocade Communication Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., CA Inc., Emulex Corp., LSI Logic Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., IBM, McData Corp, and Network Appliance Inc.

IBM's next step on the project, according to Gruener, is a focus on recruitment to its group -- particularly among startups.

"All of this work had to start somewhere," Gruener said. With SMI-S, "We need to get started. We have to move beyond where we're at."

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