Sun to acquire Lustre clustered file system

Sun waves a red flag in the face of NetApp with the announcement it's acquiring the IP for the open source clustered file system.

Sun Microsystems Inc. announced that it intends to acquire the majority of Cluster File Systems Inc.'s intellectual property and business assets, including the open source Lustre clustered file system. The announcement came one week after Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) initiated a lawsuit against Sun for patent infringement on its other open source file system, the Zettabyte File System (ZFS).

"It does look like it's a hedge," said Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "It certainly doesn't inspire confidence [in Sun's case]."

"I think the timing's unfortunate," said Tom Trainer, senior analyst with the Evaluator Group. But, he pointed out, acquisitions generally aren't made in such a short period of time, and the plans were probably in place before NetApp's suit.

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Still, according to both Sun and NetApp, the patent negotiations between the two have been going on far longer than the legal action -- 18 months, according to statements from executives. "Whether or not this is the right time to announce this is questionable," Trainer said. "They're waving their hands in the face of NetApp."

"In my opinion, Sun buying Lustre is not directly related to the on-going Sun [and] NetApp ... debate," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group. "However, indirectly, if Sun is in fact having great success in the file system, data and storage business, they need to do a better job of articulating that and not just in their blogs. Or perception continues that Sun is not doing well and thus trying to play catch-up."

Meanwhile, now that the initial excitement over NetApp's splashy initiation of its lawsuit against Sun has died down, many experts are predicting that the posturing between the two companies will eventually fizzle into a settlement of some kind, most likely a cross-licensing agreement. "There were probably some hurt feelings in their debate," Trainer said. "But my guess is by the end of 2008, I believe this will be behind them, and a new business opportunity will be in front of them."

Outside the potential implications for the NetApp lawsuit, analysts said it could be a smart pickup for Sun, if they can execute. "We have been getting positive end-user commentary about Lustre for Linux environments, and they were coming in at a much lower cost point than Sun and their QFS solution," said Rob Stevenson, managing director for TheInfoPro.

"This is a heavy-duty file system that's high performing and scales tremendously," said Tony Asaro, senior analyst for ESG. "A lot of people are using it, but it's been relegated to niche HPC environments so far. If Sun can productize it, it will work well, though historically they haven't always been good at that."

The impact that the acquisition of Lustre will have on Sun's competitors was also noted by analysts. "This may help [Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP)] with its Polyserve acquisition as well as Ibrix [Inc.] because there will be fewer players in the market," Stevenson said. However, Asaro pointed out that HP bases its StorageWorks Scalable File Share (HP SFS) on Lustre.

Sun officials were not available for comment as of press time.

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