Will EMC Pull Off a Hat Trick in Storage Management Software?


EMC’s WideSky product may be seeing some bluer skies


EMC this week announced the availability of one of the three modules to its WideSky Developers Suite. The WideSky Storage Resource Management API will give developers a standard common interface to write application-centric management software for host devices, EMC executives say.

Ultimately, the SRM tool enables customers to manage, monitor and optimize storage from the logical to physical layers. Don Swatik, vice president of alliances and information sciences at the Hopkinton, Mass.-based company, says a list of "who's who in the software world" has signed on in support of WideSky, including BMC Software, Computer Associates, Legato Systems, Microsoft, Oracle Corp., Precise Software Solutions, Novell, Quest Software, SAP, SAS and Sybase

Hardware vendors Brocade Communications Systems, QLogic, CommVault Systems also are listed as supporters of WideSky.

"Without this technology, [each ISV and vendor would have to write a management version for every company's device," said Swatik, during a break in the Storage Management conference here.

"That means a reasonable portion of their research and development is spent on translation and interoperability instead of focusing on developing their applications," he says. "With WideSky, ISVs can focus on what they want to focus on, which is writing applications."

Swatik said there are three layers --servers, switches and storage--that need to be managed in a SAN. The SRM API focuses on the host or server layer. EMC expects to release the Connectivity API and Storage API modules later this year. Brocade. Q Logic and McData, already have committed to WideSky, Swatik says.

"Brocade's announcement is a very, very strong proof point for the connectivity API," he says. "The network piece is not realized yet, but there are no relationship or political issues there."

That may not be the case for the Storage API. EMC will need to negotiate cross-licensing deals with some of its major competitors: Compaq Computer, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun Microsystems and IBM. Thus far, Compaq has signed a cross license agreement, largely because it is developing its own management piece.

Last November, EMC and Compaq unveiled this quid pro quo agreement to exchange the APIs for their storage subsystems. But while the two rivals shook hands on the cross-license deal, Compaq executives have since come out against EMC's WideSky middleware strategy.

"They want everyone to sign up for WideSky, which means you write to their middleware and not write to any given API. By writing to their middleware, it puts EMC essentially in control," said Mark Lewis, Compaq's vice president and general manager of the enterprise storage group, in a previous interview with VARBusiness. "It's like someone saying, 'Everyone learn how to speak Spanish and we will do the translation.' There is no way I'm going to have somebody in control of our destiny because, at the end of the day, they will be back to their proprietary scheme. That is why we didn't sign up for WideSky but we did a cross-license of their APIs."

Houston-based Compaq is working on its own vision for storage management software-- virtualization-based product called VersaStor that is expected to reside on the network but out of the data path. Lewis recently said VersaStor is in beta testing on a major customer's site. It is scheduled for release later this year.

Don't expect EMC to give VersaStor an official blessing.

"If you call me up in a few weeks and ask me, 'Do you support VersaStor?' My response will be, 'Hell no,'" says Swatik.

It's no coincidence that EMC and Compaq are in a race to develop an all-encompassing storage management platform--described by some as the new battleground in storage. These two companies have the bulk of customers who have implemented SAN technology and are now struggling with managing these heterogeneous environments. Its these customers who are pushing for management software.

EMC executives say that if competing storage vendors opt not to participate in WideSky, they have every intention to put their engineers to work to reverse engineer competitors' storage subsystems.

"That is exactly what we are prepared to do," says Swatik. "We have a rich history in understanding our competitors' products. [But people who decide not to swap won't attain competitive advantage. They are just going to slow themselves down."