Sun clarifies disk storage strategy

Sun execs at StorageTek Forum say they plan to keep (but streamline) most of the disk storage portfolio -- but did not deny rumors about plans to sell off the 6920 array.

LAS VEGAS -- Sun Microsystems Inc. will cut away some of the fat in its midrange disk storage line going forward, according to executives who addressed recent rumors in the marketplace that Sun is looking to sell off at least part of its storage product line.

Nigel Dessau, vice president of storage marketing and business operations at Sun, explained that within the 6000 line, the 6130 2 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC)/SATA array, which Sun OEMs from LSI Logic Corp. subsidiary Engenio, will be phased out in favor of the 4 Gbps FC/SATA 6140 array developed by Sun and announced Sept. 13. The 6140 has already been made the hardware basis for Sun's virtual tape library (VTL) Plus product, which runs FalconStor Software Corp. software. In addition, Dessau said, the 6140's companion in the 6000 product line, the 6540, will also continue to be developed in-house, despite recent speculation to the contrary.

Sun officials repeatedly stated on Wednesday that Sun sees no obligation to develop a "me-too" product when a better one can be licensed elsewhere, pointing to its longstanding and successful OEM deal of the Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS) Tagmastore high-end arrays, as an example.

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However, Dessau said, midrange arrays "are the horse we've chosen." He added that the 6140 and 6540 do have some Sun intellectual property (IP) in them, including a specific modular upgrade path between the two systems, and their ability to be managed by the StorageTek Consolidated Array Manager (CAM) software.

On the network attached storage (NAS) side, Dessau and Victor Walker, vice president of Sun's Disk Products Group said that the StorageTek QFS and storage archive management file system (SAM-FS) would be blended with the Zettabyte FS (ZFS) that's currently featured in Sun's Thumper product. ZFS is a much faster 128-bit file system, but global namespace capabilities, currently a feature of QFS and SAM-FS, are still being developed. Walker said that ZFS could take over as the main file system sometime next year.

One rumor that Sun executives did not dispel was talk that they were shopping the 6920 midrange virtualization product.

"That's not a bad speculation," Dessau said, stopping just short of confirming stories from inside sources first reported on SearchStorage.com on Aug. 24.

Dessau emphasized that if the 6920 was sold off, Sun would want to retain joint custody and retain the product as part of its portfolio, even if it was actually manufactured elsewhere, according to Dessau. HDS has been named most frequently in industry rumors about the sale of Sun storage assets, but Sun officials would neither confirm or deny any specific partner as the most likely candidate.

"We're always in conversations about how to bring solutions to customers," Dessau said, "If we did [spin off the 6920], it would be because it was the best way to spend our dollars."

But Dessau dismissed speculation about selling off disk entirely, pointing out that Thumper and fixed-content archive product Honeycomb, both systems Sun is currently marketing heavily, are all Sun IP from software to hardware. Thumper's 24 terabyte (TB) capacity in a 4U frame was Sun's doing, Dessau emphasized.

Ultimately, however, Sun officials said that the long-term storage strategy for Sun would be more focused on object-based storage, as exemplified by Honeycomb, NAS as spearheaded by Thumper and tape-based storage, which is close to the hearts of its StorageTek customer base.

Partnerships a theme at Forum

"We know that no customer is going to buy everything from Sun," said the company's new President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who spoke at a keynote presentation Wednesday morning. "That's why we want to be the best-partnered company in the world."

Aside from an announcement that Stanford University has signed on as a customer of Honeycomb for a Google Library project, Sun's only news announcements at the show were partner-based, including a "preview" of a new VTL Enterprise system, which Sun said it will codevelop with FalconStor.

VTL Enterprise, which Sun's storage executive vice president (EVP), David Yen, claimed in a keynote presentation will scale up to 1 petabyte (PB), will be positioned as a higher end VTL than Sun's other FalconStor OEM, VTL Plus. VTL Plus, essentially FalconStor's software ported to Solaris 10 and running on Sun servers, will continue to be marketed and developed as well, according to Jon Benson, Sun's vice president of tape storage.

Meanwhile, the VTL Enterprise will be a step forward in the partnership between FalconStor and Sun, according to Benson, as the two will be sharing and mixing source code for the product, slated to ship in 2007.

Sun executives also promised that VTL Enterprise would have deeper integration with tape archives. "No one in the marketplace has done a very good job integrating with tape," Benson said, adding that VTL Enterprise development would look to change that. However, exactly how that feature will be accomplished, as well as any other specific technical features of VTL Enterprise, are being kept under tight wraps by Sun for now.

Finally, Sun also announced a new StorageTek Ready partner platform in which 10 partners, BakBone Software Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Dot Hill Systems Corp., EMC Corp., HDS, Hewlett-Packard Co (HP), LSI Logic Corp., McData Corp., Oracle Corp. and Symantec Corp., will sit on an advisory and "provide input on solutions the companies will bring to market, as well as new ways to develop the StorageTek Ready brand," according to a Sun press release. For the time being, the partner program will also offer users support for products not currently on the Sun price list, such as BakBone's NetVault software.

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