Compaq And EMC Square Off


The software market becomes the next storage battleground


At first glance, it appeared to be a thaw in the storage Cold War. EMC and Compaq Computer last November announced a bilateral agreement to cross-license the application program interfaces (APIs) to each other's storage subsystems.

That simple agreement means both storage-market leaders could more easily integrate their competitor's device-specific software into their own management console,giving customers a single window to manage all the switches and disk arrays that make up storage environments today.

But since then, that hopeful gesture has turned into a war of words between the two storage titans.

"This is definitely the next battleground," says Don Swatik, EMC's vice president of alliances and information sciences. "If you call me up in a few weeks and ask me, 'Do you support VersaStor?' My response will be, 'Hell, no.'"

In turn, Compaq executives are accusing Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC of devising another proprietary scheme, employing methods similar to those it used in the hardware sector to make EMC a Wall Street darling during the 1990s.

EMC Promotes WideSky

Mark E. Sorenson, vice president of storage software and solutions at Houston-based Compaq, says EMC's idea of open standards is based on the "trusts and fortunes of EMC."

"EMC is trying to maneuver around the [open standards process in the form of WideSky," Sorenson says. "It's owned by EMC and EMC alone. We believe that absolutely is the wrong road to go down. We do not support WideSky."

What Compaq does support is a standard devised by a standards body,namely the Storage Networking Industry Association, which has been developing a common API standard that all vendors can use. Theirs is called the common information model (CIM). But like most issues hammered out by a committee, the standard is still under review. So the ultimate market winner may be the vendor who is the fastest in developing a solution for the management headache facing most storage IT managers today.

For Compaq, it's the company's SANworks Network View software, expected to work with its VersaStor virtualization product that will be used to create logical pools of capacity from physical disk drives. Compaq first discussed VersaStor more than a year ago. More recently, Mark Lewis, vice president and general manager of Compaq's enterprise storage group, said VersaStor is in beta testing at a major customer's location and is scheduled for release later this year.

At the core of EMC's vision for storage-management software is WideSky, a piece of middleware that will serve as the main translator for all the storage vendor's APIs. EMC executives say the product will be comprised of three modules to manage servers, switches and subsystems. Of those three, the SRM API module for servers is ready. EMC expects to release the Connectivity API module, for switches, and the Storage API, for disk arrays, later this year.

In March, EMC announced a list of WideSky supporters that read like a "Who's Who?" of the software world, including BMC Software, Computer Associates, Legato Systems, Microsoft and Oracle. It also included hardware vendors such as Brocade Communications Systems,the market leader in Fibre Channel switches,CommVault Systems, McData and QLogic.

Reverse Engineering

But for EMC to come out a clear winner in this race, it will have to overcome some acrimonious relationships with storage subsystem vendors and negotiate cross-license deals similar to the one with Compaq. Should Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and Sun Microsystems refuse to hand over their APIs, EMC executives have promised to use their reverse engineering expertise to get the job done.

"That's exactly what we're prepared to do," Swatik says. "We have a rich history of understanding our competitors' products. People who decide not to swap won't attain competitive advantage. They're just going to slow themselves down."

Not so fast, Compaq says. "We believe customers will feel uncomfortable running their businesses on software based on reverse engineering and partners that are unfriendly," Sorenson says.

It looks like the storage industry's history of squabbling is not over yet.