Iron Mountain sticks with NetApp NAS, wanted Sun

In a classic tale of business decisions trumping technology choices, Iron Mountain bought 800 TB of IBM-branded NetApp filers, against the choice of its storage department.

Iron Mountain Inc. recently purchased 800 terabytes (TB) of IBM branded NetApp filers to the disappointment of its storage department, which after an extensive evaluation of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s NAS gear, had its heart set on that product, SearchStorage.com has learned.

A Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) shop with 700 TB already on the floor, Iron Mountain began a proof-of-concept project with Sun's 5310 NAS appliance in October, initially to keep NetApp on its toes. But to Iron Mountain's surprise, Sun's NAS technology met its performance requirements and was cheaper than NetApp.

Then, unexpectedly to Iron Mountain's storage guys, the company bought 800 TB of the N5500, IBM's version of the NetApp FAS 3050 and the Sun deal was instantly quashed.

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"If I had my druthers, we wouldn't have made that decision … sometimes business decisions trump technology decisions," said Chris Rigby, director of storage operations in Iron Mountain's digital archive unit.

According to multiple sources, IBM Global Services called Iron Mountain's management and bought several million dollars' worth of Iron Mountain's laptop backup software for resale purposes. In exchange, Iron Mountain would stick with its long-time NAS partner, NetApp, now also a key partner for IBM.

"We like to spend our tech dollars with partners that bring business to the company, it's just more beneficial to the top line," Rigby said. "There's more confidence in IBM GS's [Global Services] ability to sell our product than Sun."

However, he and others in the digital archiving unit at Iron Mountain would have picked Sun's 5310 (the old Procom product) had it been their choice. "Procom's messaging was never great but they are a viable competitor to NetApp, if it's a technology-only decision," Rigby said. The 5310 matched NetApp on replication, snapshot, write once, read many (WORM) disk features and came in at 15% cheaper. "The Procom device has intelligent Engenio [Technologies] controllers in it whereas NetApp is just JBOD cabled behind their filer head," according to Rigby. On the downside, he said Procom's "admin interfaces are not quite as mature" as NetApp's.

Iron Mountain's storage requirements are hitting the roof right now as the company's digital archive business, an outsourced electronic records management service for archiving e-mail, instant messages and images, services all the major broker dealers across the country.

"We have some unique [storage] requirements," Rigby said. "Our archive has five to six billion files in it." The storage for this archive has to support CIFS, NFS and WORM protocols as well as replication. Iron Mountain keeps all its customers' data in the archive and then makes a second copy to WORM tape, supplied by Sun. In looking ahead, Iron Mountain is interested in a single instance storage capability to save on disk space, but hasn't started investigating this technology yet.

For other users evaluating NAS products, it's worth noting that Iron Mountain was able to bring NetApp's pricing down from $7,000 per TB to $4,000 per TB, just by bringing in Sun's gear.

Sun fought hard for the Iron Mountain project, but in the end it came down to a business decision and not a technical decision, and Sun was not able to succeed. However, the project tells an interesting story as far as Sun's NAS technology goes.

Sun acquired Procom in May 2005 for $50 million extending a licensing deal under which Procom's software powered Sun's StoreEdge 5000 series, including the 5310 Compliance Archiving System.

According to industry analysts, Procom's technology always had potential, but was never marketed very well. Dwindling sales and an eventual delisting from the Nasdaq in August 2003 for failing to file earnings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, solidified Procom's position at the bottom of the NAS heap.

In Sun's hands, analysts say the Procom technology has a chance of being revitalized and becoming a serious contender to NetApp. Given that Sun doesn't have to make all its money from NAS products, it could do some serious damage to high-end NAS prices and steal some market share in the process.

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