EMC World – standards?

Tucci and Maritz at EMC World 2009

Tucci and Maritz at EMC World 2009

I’ve been attending the annual EMC World conference in Orlando this week. A few early comments, there has been a massive 64,000ft shift to cloud computing in the messaging, but less so at ground level. There have been one or two technical sessions, but none on how to implement a cloud, or to put data in a cloud, or to manage data in a cloud. Maybe next year?

Yesterday in the keynote, Paul Maritz, President and CEO of VMware said that VMware is no longer in the business of individual hypervisors but in stitching together an entire infrastructure. In a single sentence laying out clearly where they are headed, if it wasn’t clear before. In his keynote this morning, Mark Lewis, President, Content Management and Archiving Division, was equally clear about the future of information virtualization, talking very specifically about federation and distributed data, with policy management. He compared that to a consolidated, centralized vision which he clearly said, hadn’t worked. I liked Lewis’s vision for EMC Documentum xCelerated Composition Platform (xCP) as a next generation information platform.

However, so far this week, and especially after this afternoons “Managing the Virtualized Data Center” BOF, where I had the first and last questions on standards, which didn’t get a decent discussion, there has been little real mention of standards or openness.

Generally, while vendors like to claim standards compliance and involvement, they don’t like them. Standards tend to slow down implementation historically. This hasn’t been the case with some of the newer technologies, but at least some level of openness is vital to allow fair competition. Competition almost always drives down end user costs.

Standards are of course not required if you can depend on a single vendor to implement everything you need, as you need it. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, that just doesn’t work, something gets left out, doesn’t get done, or gets a low priority from the implementing vendor, but it’s a high priority for you – stalemate.

I’ll give you an example: You are getting recoverable errors on a disk drive. Maybe it’s directly attached, maybe it’s part of a SAN or NAS. If you need to run multiple vendors server and/or storage/virtualization, who is going to standardize the error reporting, logging, alerting etc. ?

The vendors will give you one of a few canned answers. 1. It’s the hardware vendors job(ie. they pass the buck) 2. They’ll build agents that can monitor this for the most popular storage systems (ie. you are dependent on them, and they’ll do it for their own storage/disks first) 3. They’ll build a common interface through which they can consume the events(ie. you are dependent on the virtualization vendor AND the hardware vendor to cooperate) or 4. They are about managing across the infrastructure for servers, storage and network(ie. they are dodging the question).

There are literally hundreds of examples like this if you need anything except a dedicated, single vendor stack including hardware+virtualization. This seems to be where Cisco and Oracle are lining up. I don’t think this is a fruitful direction and can’t really see this as advantageous to customers or vendors. Notwithstanding cloud, Google, Amazon et al. where you don’t deal with hardware at all, but have a whole separate set of issues, and standards and openness are equally important.

In an early morning session today, Tom Maguire, Senior Director of Technology Architecture, Office of the CTO on EMC’s Service-Oriented Infrastructure Strategy: Providing Services, Policies, and Archictecture models. Tom talked about lose coupling, and defining stateful and REST interfaces that would allow EMC to build products that “snap” together and don’t require a services engagement to integrate them. He talked also talked about moving away from “everyone discovering what they need” to a common, federated fabric.

This is almost as powerful message as that of Lewis or Maritz, but will get little or no coverage. If EMC can deliver/execute on this, and do it in a de jure or de facto published standard way, this will indeed give them a powerful platform that companies like Dell can partner in, and bring innovation and competitive advantge for our customers.

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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