Historical Fact or Historical Revisionism?

Did EMC announcements threaten to drive the industry down the path it chose, or was the company just using reverse psychology to spur cooperation?

The political season is well underway as the contenders decide who will represent their party in the next election and the incumbents try to put the best spin on events to bolster their case for continuing in office. Get ready for the inevitable barrage of historical revisionism—a big phrase to describe a simple thing: bending the facts of history to support a specific interpretation or perception.

Historical revisionism is something we expect from politicians and it reaches a crescendo every four years. Recent events have led me to the conclusion that revisionism is finding its way into the storage industry as well.

In a recent encounter with a senior person from EMC Corporation, who also happens to be a passionate backer of the Storage Networking Industry Association’s (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) initiative, I was given an historical accounting that left me a bit perplexed.

I have long held that SNIA would have died on the vine had it not been for the announcement by EMC in the late 1990s of the formation of its own Fibre Alliance. Having spoken with vendors at the time, I can say that there was tremendous concern that EMC was about to make itself the Microsoft of storage—that is, a vendor with so much market share that it would become a purveyor of de facto standards.

EMC’s competitors didn’t like the idea very much. They rallied to SNIA in order to counter EMC, and the organization found its legs. (Conversations with early founders of SNIA confirm this interpretation of events.)

I have also contended that the Common Information Model/Web-Based Enterprise Management (CIM/WBEM) storage management scheme (which SNIA has recently recast as SMI-S) would not have garnered key industry player support had EMC not announced its own storage management approach, AutoIS/WideSky, about a year and a half ago. Again, it was a situation of a perceived threat driving the industry down a particular path.

Interestingly, my friend from the venerable Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based storage vendor gave me another “spin” on the facts to consider. According to him, EMC never had any real intention of going forward with WideSky—despite widely publicized statements to the contrary by former CTO Jim Rothnie and current CEO Joe Tucci. In fact, when WideSky was first announced, according to my source, it generated a near-rebellion within the EMC engineering department.

By that time, the company had joined up with SNIA and was an early backer of CIM, my source observed, pointing out that they had allocated a non-trivial number of resources to see CIM come to fruition. EMC also participated in Bluefin, a non-SNIA endeavor, to enable platforms from different vendors to be discovered in the same Fibre Channel fabric. And they backed SMI-S, which combined CIM and Bluefin.

So, he says, the engineers were more than a bit miffed by the announcement of this proprietary initiative by the company in the area of storage management. It didn’t fit with their new persona as a backer of “open storage management software initiatives.”

His remarkable claim is that EMC was just kidding—possibly when they announced Fibre Alliance, but definitely with respect to AutoIS/WideSky. In its marketing blitz around WideSky, EMC was just “role-playing” the part of the evil king seeking to grow its storage empire and dominate the industry. In fact, the company was acting out the part of the wise philosopher king, using its Machiavellian wiles to bring about a greater good: CIM.

My source would have me believe that, like a “parent” dealing with the “recalcitrant children” of the storage industry, EMC was using “reverse psychology” to cajole everyone else into cooperating with SNIA’s CIM initiative and therefore working to the ultimate benefit of the consumer. They were, in fact, confidence men with hearts of gold.

And WideSky was a con that only a really big company, with lots of influence and power, could put over convincingly. Sure, they would take some heat from detractors and pundits for pursuing their proprietary path, but they had broad shoulders and could bear the burden. Besides, those who viewed EMC as the Evil Empire were inclined to see evil intentions in whatever the company did anyway.

In the final analysis, EMC was working for the common good, albeit via a strategy that might make for an interesting movie with lots of plot twists and a surprise ending. They were never actually the bad guys that everyone thinks they were, according to my source. They were just good guys, but in disguise.

Historical fact or historical revisionism? I can only say that my source is a generally reliable sort and the kind of engineer who actually has the needs of the consumer at heart. On the other hand, he is endeavoring, rather idealistically, to further the objectives of common storage management via the very political and bureaucratic society that is SNIA, so one might legitimately wonder about his grasp of reality in any case.

It is good to know that folks like my friend are working hard to advance the goals of universal storage management. However, from where I am sitting, EMC’s real role in this drama remains a mystery wrapped up in a riddle inside an enigma. Certainly recent acquisitions by the company—an operating system vendor, a document filing system vendor, a proprietary HSM product vendor, and perhaps in the near future of a tape library manufacturer—would lead me to suspect that they were out to create a one-stop shop solution.

Of course, I could be wrong and your comments are welcome, as always. Email jtoigo@intnet.net,.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.