Storage-management software fails to satisfy users

Of about 300TB of data stored in three separate storage area networks (SAN) at Boeing, only 2TB to 3TB can be shared in a SAN with products from different vendors because the software available to manage them is unreliable.

"Every vendor is deploying their own flavor," said David Merrill, a senior networking analyst at Boeing. "They're not interoperable."

"Vendors bring technology, deliver it and scratch their heads as to why I don't want it," he said. "I'm trying to encourage and let vendors know, if they don't have tools, then I don't want the product."

Merrill isn't alone.

While storage vendors continue to hype storage manageability and open standards, users say the applications they've seen fall far short of what they need, such as automated load balancing and storage virtualization or the pooling of storage capacity from mixed vendor environments.

In reaction to customer pressure, EMC Corp. announced last month that it would be releasing ESN Manager, which promises to join disk storage systems made by Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi, and tape devices from Storage Technology Corporation.

IBM also recently said its corporate strategy is shifting toward one of networked storage management. IBM currently sells Tivoli Storage Network Manager, but the company plans to improve interoperability with other vendors' products with its Storage Tank software, which it said will be rolled out in stages in the second half of this year.

IBM sees its newest software product as the "Holy Grail" of open connectivity, allowing interoperability with any other product.

"Ultimately, it will even be able to handle EMC's stuff," quipped an IBM spokesman.

"Heterogeneity and interoperability are the big words this year," said Ed Broderick, an analyst at the Robert Frances Group. "Yes, EMC and IBM have it now. Will it get better? Yes, as far as heterogeneity and connectivity are concerned."

Robert Mahoney, IBM's vice president of storage networking solutions, said that a year and a half ago, IBM's storage and server sales were split. Today, it's a 70/30 split in favor of storage, "with 75% of that on storage networking," he said.

All agree that interoperability and storage virtualization drives down the cost of storage by allowing an organization to use all of its networked storage as if it came from a single source.

IBM has also promised by year's end the availability of iSCSI, or storage over Internet protocol (IP), for midmarket customers that can't afford Fibre-Channel SANs.

But past promises by vendors have nurtured a healthy skepticism among IT managers like Merrill who are reluctant to spend money on new technology without seeing a successful track record.

Jonathan Craig, technical architect at Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Fibre-Channel networks are complicated enough without having to worry about wrapping them in an additional layer of connectivity such as IP.

"It always shocked me that network vendors didn't seem to get that storage networking was about network switching. I think they thought it was just going away -- that it was a fad," he said.

Craig said he expects his company's SAN, now at 3.5TB, to grow two- or three-fold over the next year. He is aware that networked storage tools are available, such as EMC's Volume Logix application, which maps storage networks and monitors individual switches and routers. Using them, however, Craig said, "creates vendor lock-in."

"While [vendors] are certainly willing to be open with server platforms and switches, they're not necessarily willing to extend it to their storage," he said.