NetApp talks of storage management applications in a storage network but that doesn't mean it believes in having one storage management box; the opposite in fact.

NetApp's Dan Warmenhoven talks of ... wouldn't it be more appropriate if he was called San Warmenhoven these days? - anyway, he talks of an intelligent storage network with storage management functionality running in it; stuff like virtualisation, data management services, data protection services, connection services, security and SRM. He's speaking at a blue sky level, not at a 'boxes running in a Fibre Channel fabric' level. In fact, it's metaphorical; he doesn't mean that there should actually be storage intelligence in the physical storage network or, either, that there should be one box doing all this storage management stuff, what Jay Kidd calls the God box.

Kidd, NetApp's senior VP and GM for emerging products, has a pitch where he talks about 'scale out' storage with heterogeneous storage drive arrays linked to server applications over a network. Application managers 'talk' to a 'storage manager' thingy on a slide. This storage manager thingy sits above a virtualisation layer which sits above the physical storage boxes. I asked if the storage manager item was a single item, in a box, doing all the storage manager stuff for the application managers.

"Oh, you mean the God box, the storage controller that does everything," was the reply. In fact Kidd was being metaphorical as well and the storage manager is actually a clustered collection of controller/drive array boxes which collectively function as 'the storage manager.'

In NetApp's storage heaven the deity is distributed. What NetApp thinks is that you can't 'scale up' any one box to do everything it needs to do. That's true for storage controllers, for SAN Directors - they still need switches - and servers. It's better to 'scale out' and build a collection of boxes, including software 'boxes' like virtual servers, and build more capacity and more manageability that way.

So on the server side of the, from the storage viewpoint, unintelligent network - hear this Brocade, Cisco, EMC, and QLogic - sit storage-enabled applications, ones that have application-aware storage managers that request storage services for their applications, across the network, to a set of co-operating storage controllers that function as a storage manager above a virtualisation layer hiding the physical storage.

Each application storage manager will talk to its nominated storage controller or sub-group of controllers; it's not a case of many-talking-to-many. This distributed storage management scheme, applicable to both block and file storage, differentiates NetApp from the controller-centric storage vendors such as HDS and the fabric-centric vendors such as Brocade, Cisco, EMC and QLogic, also IBM. Whether IBM will move around to the NetApp view is a moot point.