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Big Four In Storage Ready To Interoperate

Storage-network vendors are cooperating to make management easier
This might be one of the signs warning that The End Is Near, but for some, it'd be worth it. The Big Four in storage--Compaq, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM--say they will cooperate to make managing heterogeneous storage networks easier.

Next week, the four plan to certify and document how their systems will interoperate with each other's products on storage networks connected by Fibre Channel switches from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp. Moreover, they will give every customer a single point of contact for support once they call for help, in theory eliminating finger-pointing.

This could have a widespread impact for buyers. The four storage vendors accounted for as much as 83% of the $4.87 billion Fibre-Channel storage-network market last year.

De facto storage network standards are being considered by the Storage Networking Industry Association. But the vendors, according to an industry source who asked not to be identified, led by a call from Compaq, opened their management interfaces and exchanged all the necessary information before they approached the association a few months ago.

Dean Holland, senior AIX system administrator at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee in Chattanooga, Tenn., helps maintain a 16-terabyte (and growing) storage network based on IBM's Enterprise Storage Systems and McData switches. He says the insurer is a "Big Blue shop with most everything from IBM." But he sees opportunities in this development. "EMC might have software features from which IBM is still two years away," says Holland. "If EMC can come close to the price that IBM charges us, we'll take a look at Symmetrix now."

Holland says he knows that interoperability wouldn't be plug and play. And he thinks the key to its success depends mostly on the switch vendors. Like most storage-network customers, the insurer has storage islands that administrators must maintain and manage separately, increasing the cost of ownership. "I'd love to see Brocade and McData working together" to bring all the storage islands together, says Holland.

Industry analyst John Webster at Illuminata Inc. says lack of cooperation among the major vendors has been the biggest thing holding back deployment. Says Webster, "These vendors have to get together and make it work in the first place."