Someone has got to do something to save the tuna.

For more than 25 years now, fisherman in Sweden and Japan have been at each other’s throats over the survival prospects of Bluefin. A species which thrived in Nordic waters for thousands of years, marine biologists have warned that overfishing

has decimated about 90 per cent of the Bluefin population. This led Sweden to debate the possibility of putting the fish on the endangered species list, a move the Japense (who use Bluefin in sushi) opposed. No one, it seems, is able to properly manage this problem. And compared to data storage, it should be child’s play.

That may be why, on Wednesday, a group of IT companies named a new storage software standard after the Bluefin. Or maybe they’re feeling endangered too. Never has a storage system seemed like such a commodity, even when everyone agrees that the ability to successfully plan and manage storage of data is only going to become more important. With Bluefin, the key players in this market have acknowledged that they are in a race against time to discover new opportunities for revenue growth, and that it is no longer possible to do it as individual entities.

Bluefin will reportedly offer a common interface for storage area network (SAN) components, including servers, tape drives and switches. It is probably the most important standards effort to be announced so far this year. EMC largely took credit for the work (referring vaguely to “”other leading players”” in its press release), but IBM, Brocade Communications Systems, Veritas and BMC Software are also on board.

The logic behind Bluefin is simple: if all SAN products could be managed the same way, any vendor that sells storage software could now sell to customers that don’t currently run its storage hardware. There are margins to be made here, but also potential marketshare gains if the software gets these players behind doors they haven’t been able to open before. For example, if you liked the software, why not consider that vendor the next time you upgrade your servers?

Bluefin’s success rests on the assumption that enterprises everywhere are building SANs, but many firms seem more interested in squeezing every remaining drop of life out of their existing investments. SANs, of course, are notoriously expensive and sometimes difficult to implement, but if Bluefin takes off, the ease of manageability could reduce costs and thereby propel the overall market. SANs are a pretty good bet for the long term because eventually even the most frugal customers will have to upgrade, and SANs are well-suited to handle complex database information.

There has been some suggestion within the analyst community that the software layer of storage has been underdeveloped, but the plans for Bluefin show an industry that is wisely putting the horse before the cart. There is no point in releasing sophisticated applications that work on only one platform. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if the evolution of software management will lead storage companies to take the price wars they’ve waged on hardware to a new level.

Whatever happens, the Bluefin brigade should keep close tabs on Microsoft’s plans in this space. Though it is not considered a major player today, the company recently formed an Enterprise Storage Services Group whose senior vice-president, Bob Muglia, delivered the keynote speech at Storage Networking World. Reducing costs of managing storage is a software problem, Muglia said, “”that’s why we see Microsoft as being able to play a very important role in the solution. Software is our business.””

Take heed, hardware specialists. Microsoft is often late entering a market (the Internet, game consoles) but over time it makes the investments necessary to dominate it. If it doesn’t back Bluefin, this standard could have a tough time paddling to the surface.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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