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Users find HP-EMC legal battle good sport, but that's about it

Hewlett-Packard is suing EMC for patent infringement. EMC is suing HP right back. The two companies are also sharing APIs to control each other's storage arrays. Does something have to give?

Two of the biggest storage vendors on the globe are signing interoperability agreements with one hand and punching each other with the other.

Last month, Hewlett-Packard Co. filed a patent infringement lawsuit against EMC Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. By the end of the day, EMC had filed a patent infringement complaint against HP in the U.S. District Court in Worcester, Mass., based on a different set of patent infringements.

Two months earlier, the pair of storage powerhouses penned a deal to exchange the code for the application programming interfaces used to manage each other's storage arrays.

The companies maintain that the lawsuits and the cooperative agreement are mutually exclusive. Does this position pass muster with users? According to a survey, users really couldn't care less.


 HP case against EMC

Hewlett-Packard filed a patent infringement lawsuit against EMC in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Sept. 30.

In the complaint, HP states that a range of features in EMC's Symmetrix, Clariion and TimeFinder products infringe upon seven of HP's U.S. patents.

Specific patent numbers named in the lawsuit include:

5,247,618 -- data transfer between storage media.

5,315,602 -- reducing the number of reads and writes in a RAID environment.

5,237,658 -- host computers coupled by a switching network to a storage array.

5,390,327 -- method and apparatus for handling a disk failure in a RAID array.

5,917,253 -- live AC mains power selector for a disk storage system.

6,269,453 -- method and apparatus for handling a disk failure in a RAID array.

6,356,979 -- method and apparatus for presenting logical units to host computers.

HP is seeking remedies in the form of monetary damages for past infringement as well as injunctive relief prohibiting EMC from continuing to use the intellectual property protected by the patents.


 The nuts and bolts of EMC's counter-suit

On the same day Hewlett-Packard filed a patent infringement suit against storage rival EMC, EMC hit back with a patent complaint of its own.

EMC filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Worcester, Mass., against HP on Sept. 30.

According to the complaint, certain HP data storage products infringe on six patents owned by EMC. Those patents include four that are the foundation of EMC's SRDF (Symmetrix Remote Data Facility) and TimeFinder software products. Two other EMC patents, relating to data migration and the storage of mainframe data, are also included in the suits.

Specifically, EMC charges that HP has infringed on U.S. Patent numbers: 6,101,497; 6,108,748; 6,092,066; 5,909,692; 5,742,792; and 5,544,347.

The complaint mirrors the suit EMC filed against HP's partner, Hitachi Data Systems Corp., last April.

More details on the patent infringement suits can be found at

Despite the finger pointing and the legal grappling, IT professionals don't believe patent suits such as these will affect how they manage their daily storage operations.

A plurality of those surveyed by, 30%, don't care who wins. Twenty-eight percent believe that the companies are doing what they have to do to stay competitive and 24% hope the storage vendors will finally iron out their issues in court.

Ray Ball, a system administrator with toy maker Fisher-Price Inc., East Aurora, N.Y., said that patent suits such as these don't impact storage decisions in any way.

He also doubts that the suits will hinder the two companies' interoperability efforts.

Cameron Beals, a network manager with San Diego-based Acadia Inc. agreed.

"We will purchase the best product for our needs that is available in the marketplace at the time," Beals said.

HP spokesman Mark Stouse said the lawsuit is based on several technology patents that are at the core of HP's storage product line.

Stouse contends that Mark Lewis, the former HP and Compaq vice president turned EMC chief technology officer, knew of the patent infringement issues in his roles at both HP and pre-merger Compaq.

EMC fired back by characterizing HP's lawsuit as "an act of frustration."

"Competitive noise is at an all-time high in the market," said EMC spokesperson Dave Farmer.

The bottom line is that HP wants EMC to stop using all features related to its patents in its product line as well as compensating HP for products already sold and installed.

HP alleges that a range of features in EMC's Symmetrix, Clariion and TimeFinder products infringe upon seven of HP's U.S. patents.

So which came first, the patent or the API?

Under the terms of the API agreement, EMC licensed HP's APIs to support discovery and control functions of its HP StorageWorks Virtual Array (VA) systems and the HP StorageWorks XP systems. Reciprocally, HP licensed APIs to support discovery and control functions of the Symmetrix and Clariion storage systems.

EMC is using HP's APIs in EMC ControlCenter, SAN Manager, the StorageScope SRM and its Enterprise Replication Manager. HP will integrate EMC's APIs in its storage area management (SAM) product family, including OpenSAN Manager, Network View and the OpenView Storage Manager.

Given EMC's propensity for reverse engineering, the company's swap with HP opened the door for multivendor management opportunities.

The API deal, according to John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group Inc., Nashua, N.H., applies to HP's APIs and HP versions of the underlying Hitachi Data Systems boxes only and doesn't extend to Hitachi or Sun.

"EMC may now be able to get enough to reverse engineer APIs to the SUN and HDS versions of the base machine without agreements from Sun or HDS that would otherwise facilitate this process," he said.

The only thing that HP and EMC agree on is that the API agreement will not be impacted by the current patent lawsuit.

"Our customers are sophisticated and understand that the API agreements were done for their benefit. Once the agreement was done, the APIs were swapped and that's that," Stouse said. "But the exchange of APIs doesn't mean that one company can rip off the other company's intellectual property."

EMC's Farmer echoed Stouse's comment: "I think customers are separating the patent suit from the API agreement. They realize that this particular action is not connected to open management technology."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor


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