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Users say API-swaps flop

API-swaps, reverse engineering and open standards such as CIM are supposed to make storage management easier, but are vendors holding back when push comes to shove? Some users and analysts say they are.

Storage vendors have spent a lot of time in the past several months patting one another on the back for being leaders in the movement toward multivendor storage management through API-sharing, reverse engineering and open standards.

But users aren't buying it -- literally. Skepticism runs rampant through data centers and many users say that the apparent cooperation of vendors might be just for show.

At issue, users say, is that the sharing of APIs is selective and designed to enhance individual vendor positions, rather than the completeness of product solutions.

"While it does achieve a more complete solution for most of us, assuming we have a legacy of multiple vendor storage products, and most of us do, its primary objective is not openness but still to create a proprietary dependency," said Dick Browne, SAP technical architect for the Shell Company of Australia Ltd.

Last month, EMC announced an expansion of its software management initiative that includes support for other vendors. The day before EMC's announcement, Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled a new version of its OpenView storage management software, which also provides support for other vendors' products. While both EMC and HP are bragging about their involvement in this API love-fest, critics said neither EMC's nor HP's new interoperability initiatives go deep enough for most shops. In fact, some even say the strategies are creating more interoperability problems than they solve.

Lawrence Reeder, senior procurement consultant, Allstate Insurance, Northbrook, Ill., said that while API swapping is a good thing, the vendors are only confusing the situation because they're swapping APIs only for certain functions. "Once you get to a certain level, the compatibility stops," he said.

To add more fuel to the fire, HP filed suit earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging violations involving EMC's high-end Symmetrix storage systems, its midrange Clariion systems and its TimeFinder software. EMC filed a countersuit the same day in U.S. District Court in Worcester, Mass., alleging that HP infringed on six EMC patents. While the suits having nothing to do with recent API agreements, the legal actions raise more questions among users.

John Webster, an industry expert and founder of the Nashua, N.H., analyst firm Data Mobility Group Inc., believes that, to some degree, vendors are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Webster said he believes vendors are content to let this API game play out instead of putting their money and time into promoting standards, such as CIM, that would promote compatibility across the board. Common Information Model (CIM) is an open standard for data management developed in part by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

"This tends to work to the advantage of the large vendors," he said.

Gartner analyst Nick Allen said that the fact that the vendors are talking is a very good sign, but at this point, API-sharing doesn't bear much weight.

"These pal deals, while they're useful to vendors, are really pretty silly," Allen said. "Users should ignore the hype and demand that vendors make public their APIs."

Reverse engineering, a practice in which a company figures out the interfaces on its own and works them into their own products, has its critics, as well.

EMC is a big proponent of reverse engineering.

"I do not support this approach, since it now is creating EMC-specific versions of the interfaces that only they can support," Browne said. "What of new versions from the original supplier? Are we always going to be waiting on EMC to re-engineer every change?"

According to Webster, the success of reverse engineering management functionality of other vendors' products depends solely on the users' comfort level in regard to taking risks.

"If there is a problem, will EMC's competing vendor support the interface EMC has reverse engineered? Most likely not," he said.

Brian Truskowski, chief technology officer of IBM Corp.'s Storage Systems Group, said that Big Blue, despite its own API-swaps with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp., supports open standards like CIM.

"The bottom line is that [through reverse engineering] customers still only will get a closed, EMC-controlled, proprietary system with only limited support for non-EMC hardware," Truskowski said. "Open standards means the customer, not the vendor, is in control, and that is simply what the e-business transformation is all about."

EMC said its competitors' unwillingness to swap APIs and be open in this way is going to come back to hurt them.

"We'd rather swap APIs than reverse engineer. It's harder, but just as effective," said Mark Lewis, EMC's chief technology officer. "If I'm sitting in front of the customer who wants open management tools and they ask 'Why don't you support IBM?' -- it's because they won't step up to the table with an API-swap."

Sun Microsystems Inc. claims that API agreements and reverse engineering are both practices that it will avoid. Its goal, said James Staten, the company's director of storage strategy, is to put all its efforts into the development of CIM management tools.

"The standard is here. Let's use it. Let's not have words with each other and trade legal documents," he said.

Staten added that Sun has done some API-swapping with its partners, but only because CIM was not ready to be placed in products.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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