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A thaw in the storage Wars

Signaling a thaw of sorts in the industry storage wars, six leading vendors Monday launched a new Supported Solutions Forum, which will run under the aegis of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

Signaling a thaw of sorts in the industry storage wars, six leading vendors Monday launched a new Supported Solutions Forum, which will run under the aegis of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

At a press conference in New York City, representatives of IBM, EMC, Compaq, Hitachi, Brocade and McData announced they have already finished up the first in a series of planned "interoperable storage networking solutions."

Complying with a SNIA-proposed storage interoperability model, the group's first two solutions consist of "Open SAN" (storage area network) configurations that use fiber channel fabric environments from a choice of either Brocade or McData.

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Under each configuration, RAID arrays from IBM, EMC, Compaq and Hitachi can share the same SAN. Although using the same fiber channel fabric, the multi-vendor systems are partitioned into separate "Data Zones." Each solution has been fully tested for interoperability, officials asserted.

By setting up the Supported Solutions Forum, the six vendors hope to open up the initiative to other players, as well as to move on to other levels of interoperability.

Mark Sorenson, VP of Compaq's Enterprise Storage Software business, characterized the solutions unveiled today as a "first step" in SAN interoperability. SANs, added Sorenson, are "still in adolescence."

"The next step might be switching, or storage management, or tape," predicted Brenda H. Christensen, a member of the SNIA Board of Directors, during the press event in Manhattan.

Also at the press conference, IBM, EMC, Compaq and Hitachi announced they have inked cooperative support agreements to ease support for customers owning storage systems from more than one vendor.

The vendors denied, though, that they have any plans to stop competing, attributing their moves to customer demand.

Brian J. Truskowski, V.P. of technology and strategy for the IBM Storage Systems Group, said the vendors want to send out "a clear message that we all want to take the customer out of the middle of the storage network war."

"It was customers that brought us to the table," noted Donald S. Swatik, EMC's V.P. of global alliances, also at the event.

Some of the players maintained that interoperability will also make life easier for systems integrators, by letting the integrators pick and choose between more vendors' products when building a storage solution.

Richard Search, McData's V.P. of marketing, acknowledged that customers might feel some skepticism that companies such as IBM and EMC, traditionally strong rivals in the storage game, really plan to let their storage systems work tightly with one another.

The founding members don't plan a recruitment drive to enlist other storage vendors, such as Sun Microsystems, according to Truskowski "I think others will join because they won't want to be left behind," Truskowski said, during a meeting at the event.

EMC's Swatik said that storage over IP, an emerging competitor to fiber channel, has a long way to go before matching the mission critical "reliability" of fiber channel.