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Mon 5 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Content kings

Patrick Elligett spoke with Razmik Abnous, CTO of EMC's content management and archiving division, during the recent Momentum event in Prague to talk out about the company's involvement in developing new content management industry standards (CMIS).

Patrick Elligett spoke with Razmik Abnous, CTO of EMC's content management and archiving division, during the recent Momentum event in Prague to talk out about the company's involvement in developing new content management industry standards (CMIS).

The content management industry and end-users alike are awaiting the findings of the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) who are tasked with deciding whether or not to approve the new industry standards that were put forward by content management vendors.

What is the content management industry and EMC specifically, doing to improve interoperability for enterprises who use systems from multiple vendors?

If we only said: 'We'll just implement the CMIS,' and added nothing more to it, then it would become purely a commodity technology. But we have to innovate and create more opportunities.

As an industry we are attempting to define a standard that all content management systems and applications will be able to leverage to share, integrate and interoperate across the board.

That means one should be able to write a single application that works with all content management systems like EMC Documentum, IBM content manager, OpenText and so on. Theoretically, one would also be able to have a system like Documentum and be able to switch applications in and out.

That's not necessarily an easy thing to do because a lot of content management systems are designed to work with only one vendor, because we lack a standard similar to SQL, which allows the interoperability of information across various content management systems.

In terms of EMC itself, we are one of the leaders in the field of improving interoperability, which is why we took a leadership role in attempting to define the CMIS standards.

Our portfolio is very broad, so the standard itself will actually benefit EMC content management group, because it allows the different parts of our company, such as Documentum and Document Sciences to come together using a standard.

This industry is going to be driven by solutions and applications but we can't build all of those in house. We need a very large system to build applications, and our application providers have been asking for a standard like this for some time, to allow them to start working on the next generation of applications.

Will other vendors adopt these standards if they are not enforced by OASIS?

All the big content management vendors, such as both branches of IBM, Lotus Notes, the entire EMC organisation, Oracle, Open Text, Alfresco (which is an open source content management system), and many others have all helped in the work of developing the current CMIS system.

Since we submitted the standards to OASIS, there are now more than 30 supporting vendors. We grew to this number very quickly from only seven vendors. I think the big vendors like Oracle, EMC, IBM and others know that if this marketplace is to experience large growth, we need a universal standard.

Could the new standards create a threat to the big content management vendors by opening up competition from other players?

I would say that what will make or break any content management vendor will be the innovations that are created around the standards. Going back to the SQL standards, it was not so much about who implemented those standards, but about who had the best performing, optimised, highly efficient product with the best enterprise characteristics. That is what will make you the leading vendor in this space, and that is the game we want to play.We at EMC want to use the CMIS as a core to use to help us innovate around the infrastructure. This is how we will attempt to become the leading vendor.

If we only said: "We'll just implement the CMIS," and added nothing more to it, then it would become purely a commodity technology. But we have to look at creating innovation and creating more opportunities around that technology.

But if other vendors think the same way, could the standards not affect the current dominance of EMC and IBM in the content management sphere?

Since we submitted the standards to OASIS, there are now more than 30 supporting vendors. We grew to this number very quickly from only seven vendors. I think the big vendors like Oracle, EMC, IBM and others know that if this marketplace is to experience large growth, we need a universal standard.

I think it will become a race. For example, the SQL standard was defined and created by IBM, but then it helped create the company called Oracle, which was able to implement itself as a technology company based around these emerging standards.

There was no company like this in existence before these standards, and I think the same threat now exists with the introduction of CMIS. Whichever entity of the ones present eventually takes CMIS and builds a robust offering and implementation around it is going to take the lead in this game.

Are you confident that it will be EMC that takes the lead in this new CMIS race?

Well, we have already released the CMIS into our technology, but I think the real game is just beginning for vendors.

Were you the first to do so?

IBM, EMC and Alfresco all released CMIS compatibility within a 90 day window. Remember, they are not generally available products yet though. You have to look at them more like open source developer prototypes.

When are you expecting OASIS to announce the approval or rejection of the CMIS?

We think it will probably come in the second half of next year, but obviously I can't precisely predict exactly when it will happen - but that would be my "guesstimate".

It is very exciting for us. CMIS is not standardising everything in enterprise content management. It is a core set of functionality that will be common across all of these emerging systems, that is what will be standardised.

Will you have products ready to go should OASIS approve the CMIS in the months to come?

Let's put it this way - the moment OASIS releases their standard architecture, we will have our product offerings ready to go within 90 days. That's the best answer I can give you.

The fact that it took us only three months to release our prototype should tell you approximately how quick we will be be able to proceed with deployment of products.

The CMIS, by design, will not force anyone into a certain architectural system. It is designed to work with any pre-existing content management system. So it is not a major investment for us to release the CMIS drivers quickly.

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