The Sun Also Rises ... And Sets ... And Rises ...

Sun announces a development partnership with AppIQ, which offers a combo storage resource management/SAN management product called StorageAuthority Suite.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Sun Microsystems. My earliest Web servers were Sun products. I was one of those guys who thought that JAVA was pretty cool and was delighted when my teenage son recently told me that he was studying it in his high school computer programming class.

JAVA had staying power, as did its underlying concept of application deconstruction. It was the sort of thing you expected from the revolutionaries who dared to say that the network had become the computer.

On the storage side, however, Sun was not quite the power house that is was in things Web. To their credit, back in the 90s, they did help define what a storage area network was supposed to be. Sun’s Project StoreX was every bit as visionary and its architecture was every bit as seminal as Compaq’s (Digital Equipment Corporation’s) Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA).

Unfortunately, somebody pegged StoreX to “JINI” – another “J” acronym from a company with a penchant for the letter. Unlike JAVA, nearly everyone has forgotten about JINI, and its key backer within the organization has long since retired.

Sun, having failed to come up with a competitive product of its own, repeatedly OEM’ed other people’s storage arrays. At the time of they released their “Purple T3” array, a retooling of MAXSTRAT’s high performance RAID array following Sun’s acquisition of that company, I remember feeling empathy for the company when I overheard several analysts at the launch joke that the product was Sun’s fifth (and most likely fifth unsuccessful) array entry into the enterprise space.

For some reason, Sun just couldn’t seem to get it right with storage. To be sure, they had some great ideas—purchasing HighGround Software was one. HighGround’s SRM team was arguably the best in the business and it showed when some talented folk from the group, such as Mark Carlson, were given the latitude to help drive the development of the Common Information Model (CIM) at SNIA. For a while it looked like what Sun couldn’t pull off internally, they might bring about through SNIA’s CIM group: a real storage management breakthrough.

Whatever you think of SNIA (and I have my opinions about the organization), CIM paved the way for improved storage management in a decentralized computing world. While it may have lost some backers along the way, CIM continues to have its enthusiasts who labor with little recognition to get storage platforms to work together in a manageable fashion.

That the user community never warmed up to CIM or made CIM compliance a must have in their hardware requirements specification is not so much a reflection on the CIM technology as it is on the paucity of SNIA’s evangelical skills. Mention CIM (or its cousin, SMI-S) and most storage managers’ eyes glaze over. No one has managed to spin the technology, many CIM developers would agree, so that it doesn’t become a lecture from an Object-Oriented Programming 101 class. When SNIA higher-ups talk about it, the discussion drifts into the realm of marketecture.

Sun’s acquisition of HighGround provided them with what was, at the time, best-of-breed management technology. Unfortunately, in the opinion of many integrators, they squandered this edge by tailoring the product to address the management requirements of a mostly homogeneous Sun infrastructure. If you deployed anyone else’s gear, the Sun StorEdge Enterprise Storage Management system really didn’t give you what you needed. This classic bit of stovepipe thinking just didn’t cut it in the commodity storage world.

So, today, the big news is an announcement of a development partnership between Sun and AppIQ. The latter, a 2001 Burlington, MA start-up, offers a combo storage resource management/SAN management product called StorageAuthority Suite that borrows a marketing page from BMC Software’s old Application Centric Storage Management playbook by claiming to be “application facing.” This reflects the fact that some variants of the software provide hooks into applications such as Oracle and Exchange Mail in order to better accommodate their storage needs.

The “Authority” part of AppIQ product moniker reflects the heavy emphasis placed on “management via standards” in the product architecture. The “standards” that AppIQ refers to are CIM and SMI-S, as well as Java, J2EE, XML, and SOAP for messaging.

Apparently, CIM is a standard in AppIQ’s vocabulary because the company chairs the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) Architecture Working Group (like SNIA, DTMF is a quasi-standards-making body) and because its homegrown “CIMIQ software development platform” is, according to its Web site, “the technology of choice for Brocade, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett Packard, LSI Logic Storage Systems, McDATA, Network Appliance, SGI, and Sun Microsystems, Inc. [where it is used] to shorten development cycles and reduce the costs of developing SMI-S-compliant products.”

Why AppIQ wasn’t simply swallowed whole by Sun has been a matter of conjecture by analysts. Some have ventured that AppIQ is in a better position to broker management to EMC, IBM, and other storage leaders as a separate entity than it would be if it was a Sun subsidiary. Sun said as much in its press release, touting the strategic relationship as a bridge for its own ESM product to be used in a more heterogeneous environment.

It will be interesting to see whether AppIQ gets the market penetration it needs to stay afloat through a series of strategic partnerships. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see whether AppIQ is any more successful than SNIA in fomenting consumer enthusiasm around CIM and SMI-S.

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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.