Axiom Storage Services Manager, versions 3 – 5.


  • Pillar Data Systems / Oracle


  • Graphic User Interface Design


  • 2006—2010

Pillar Data Systems, a data storage solutions company, undertook to reconstruct its key software program, the Axiom Storage Services Manager, which controls the hardware of its server systems.

The original program used an HTML interface with limited controls. Upgrading to a complex and more sophisticated interface written in Java allowed for multiple adjustments of network storage. This upgrade necessitated a new interface to support the wide array of new features and the extended family of tools. The objective was to establish this new user environment while maintaining harmony with the previous thus attracting new customers while still satisfying the current Network Administrators.

Volume icons

SAN icons

NAS icons

Hardware icons

Comparing the old to the new…

Design Team

    Sr. Software Engineering Manager:

  • Barry Litt

    Principle Software Developer:

  • Jason Stevens

    Sr. Human Factors Engineer:

  • Dan Castle

    Graphic Designer:

  • J. Blake Johnson

Project Challenges

1. Overcome language barrier. I had to learn the vocabulary of the IT Networker. A language where what I would know as servers, or hard drives was labeled Storage Domains, Volumes , or Consistency Group. How these storage domains were structured made them SAN or NAS with details such as Host Groups and Exports etc.

2. Translate. Once I learned the new terms I was tasked with converting the terms into pictorial representations meaningful to the IT Networker.

3. Combine. Newly created icons required incorporation with industry established icons.

4. Unify. All visuals required adjustment to create a cohesive system.

5. Compress. Size requirements necessitated the compression of these complex pictorial representations into an 18 x 18 pixel space. Many of the existing program icons were as large as 32 x 32 making the transition to the custom size of 18 x 18 a challenge.

Various versions of the icon representing cloud computing. An enlargement shows the challenge of fitting three icons into this 18x18 pixel space.

Additionally, most of the program’s functionality was too complex to be represented by a single symbol. Consequently, the icons became a combination of two symbols, in some cases three. For example, an icon representing the CMP Virtual Machine Configuration Manager (cloud computing) features a gear (representing preference settings, clouds (cloud computing) and a computer (network storage rack).

An overview of some of the program icons


I began with an analysis of the successes and failures of the current interface and a comparison to competition’s interfaces. I continued by studying the company’s identity system manual to ensure the proposal matched the company’s standards. Research was conducted to determine how icons were used historically in the Windows environment and how other data storage managment software had represented complex ideas such as a storage domain.

Extra Small Icons

Creating consistency despite the challenge of size.

Communicating complex system functionality required a serious and simple design. Fortunately dramatic stylization wasn't necessary for the market. The software engineers wanted the interface to represent the world's ultimate operating system, Windows XP. The only touch of style we could afford was highlight and shadow, and out of necessity, occasional isometric perspective (you just can’t represent a cylinder as a straight on view).

Translating vocabulary into pictograms and ideograms may sound like a simple and straightforward project however drawing a cylinder, complete with highlight and shadow, in a 6 pixel by 10 pixel space presents a design challenge. Anti-alisis is often called hinting, when only have 30 pixels are available in which to draw dimensional shapes 50% of the image is hinting!

Icon Color Pallet

A large color pallet allowed the small and complex overlapping icons to be individually recognizable.

Main colors

Axiom Black

NAS Blue

SAN Green

Secondary Colors

Performance Yellow

Java Red

Database Orange

Pillar Green

Colors were matched to the previous system whenever possible and the existing program's use of blue and green to represent SAN and NAS respectively remained consistent. A large color pallet helped display the icons as clearly as possible. The issue of color blindness was considered and treated by ensuring the values were different enough that those with any degree of red/green or blue/yellow color blindness could recognize a difference between colors.

Over 30 usability tests and informal walk-throughs were conducted. These studies included review by system administrators, current customers, and company sales engineers. Input was gathered and applied. Icons were adjusted, and interface layout altered. A successful balance was struck in maintaining the former look and feel of the interface to accommodate existing users while introducing a software interface that was drastically more complex.

Experimentation leads to the best solutions. These are draft images for the Primary Storage Domain and New Hardware icons.


The Axiom Storage Service Manager was released in early 2011. The product has been well received by the industry. It won theBest Cloud Storage Solution award on June 21, 2011. Six days later Oracle announced it would acquire Pillar Data Systems.

Market Response

The target market has been particularly pleased. There have been no major complaints about the interface since the release. Perhaps the best compliment paid to the overall design and functionality of the Axiom Storage Service Manager, is a quote from Barry Litt, Senior Software Engineering Manager: “When one doesn’t hear complaints it is usually a good sign.”

Universal Communication

The Axiom Storage Service Manager is a product used by IT professionals around the globe and therefore the GUI was designed to present a universal language for the global marketplace. Care was taken during the design process to create a look that was not “American” or even “Western.”

Universal Symbols

By removing alphabetic glyphs common to the Western alphabet the interface spoke more clearly to a universal client across a broad range of cultures.

Return to Top