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EMC and IBM cooperate -- sort of

What was thought to be an API exchange between IBM and EMC was really an agreement to share code in the future. But the storage rivals are doing business now to make software work better with mainframe storage.

Reports this week that EMC and IBM have, for the first time, agreed to share the application programming interfaces (API) for each other's storage arrays may have been exaggerated. What was thought to be an API exchange was really just an agreement to share code in the future. But the storage rivals are doing business to make software work better with mainframe storage.

The companies officially called the deal a "framework" for the future exchange of APIs, but they offered no details on which technologies or features will fall under the agreement.

"We don't know yet, we don't have road maps at that level," Hagan said. "This is to give customers confidence that [IBM's and EMC's] products will be interoperable," said Roland Hagan, vice president of storage marketing for IBM.

When asked if the Storage Management Initiative Specification's (SMI-S') inevitable arrival forced the two companies to sit down and deal, both companies said this was the logical point and time to cooperate.

Chuck Hollis, vice president of platforms marketing for EMC, said both companies want to accelerate and surpass the SMI-S standard to make sure the different arrays behave in a common way in shared customer environments.

The SMI-S is a set of interfaces designed to make it easier for storage hardware and management software from different vendors to work together.

For storage managers, this means the ability to map logical unit numbers (LUNs) of storage. It also means the ability to reassign storage volumes to different applications and monitor the performance of storage and tape arrays from different vendors using both common management tools and a common set of storage management skills.

"Two areas that SMI-S doesn't address are replication and performance management," Hollis said. "We'd like to see those in the SMI-S standards and will support them."

"Ultimately, SMI-S will do it all, but right now it [isn't] there yet, so we still need API swaps," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc. "It gives each [vendor] the ability to more reasonably manage each others' stuff. The bottom line is customers will have better controls, and that's never bad."

A move to improve EMC's mainframe storage

There is some tangible business being done between Big Blue and its newfound friends in Hopkinton that is unrelated to the tentative API swap.

"EMC is licensing some tech from IBM to improve and extend compatibility for IBM users using mainframes," said Roland Hagan, vice president of storage marketing for IBM. IBM earned more than $1 billion in licensing royalties last year.

IBM has licensed interfaces for its TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server to EMC so that Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy (PPRC) and Extended Remote Copy (XRC) functions will be compatible with the Symmetrix DMX. Other IBM features, like FlashCopy, Multiple Allegiance and Parallel Access Volumes (PAV), are included in the licensing agreement and will also work on Symmetrix systems.

EMC's Hollis said that mainframe customers will be first to benefit from the agreement. "Historically, EMC has provided 'compatibility engineering' as IBM rolled out new features for the mainframe. Through this licensing agreement we'll be able to [roll out features at the same pace]."

EMC tipped its hat last month by dropping its WideSky software initiative as its storage management platform in favor of SMI-S.

IBM and EMC will also tighten product support and testing for joint customers.

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

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