Storage Outlook '08: Sun reveals plans for disk arrays

Sun's disk systems portfolio will be expanded and updated in 2008, from Thumper to NAS and new low-end disk arrays, according to Sun executive VP John Fowler.

No storage vendor experienced more change in the past year than Sun Microsystems Inc. One of the biggest changes was the reorganization of the company's storage products within the systems group headed by executive vice president John Fowler.'s news director Dave Raffo and news writer Beth Pariseau sat down with Fowler just before the holiday break to find out what Sun has in store for 2008 and beyond.

SearchStorage: Your group at Sun has undergone a lot of changes since the StorageTek acquisition. What have been the biggest challenges in building out Sun storage?

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John Fowler: The big challenge is that we've had a lot of product roadmap changes and a lot of changes to how we approach storage at Sun. The big challenge is getting people interested in, and excited about, the new product roadmaps. You're going to start seeing things appear here in 2008 and continue to fill out in 2009, but you don't engineer new products or a new product direction in three months.

SearchStorage: Sun's Thumper direct-attached disk array has been held up as the core of Sun's disk storage strategy going forward. What can we expect to see happen with Thumper?

Fowler: Anything to do with video surveillance is a real sweet spot, and we're working to expand that solution set. Anything to do with backup and archive is also a pretty obvious area for development with Thumper.

Another area of interest is technical computing. We acquired a company called Cluster File Systems [in September], and it's very naturally mated to Thumper. In fact, that's how we established a relationship with that company. That's the solution behind the Texas Advanced Computing Center installation here in the United States, as well as a number of others. So anyone that needs a very high-bandwidth parallel file system, we have a natural solution there.

As Thumper goes forward you'll see it bifurcate in a couple of different ways. First, it's going to get much more powerful because we've found that people want an even greater level of CPU and memory capabilities than it actually has today. But it's also going to move downmarket. There will be people that will use them because they have single-digit-terabyte type of capacity at the server level.

SearchStorage: Sun has talked about becoming the supplier to Web 2.0 computing farms where the notion of a proprietary storage array is a foreign one. What does that mean for Sun's current RAID arrays?

Fowler: We have a long-standing and strong relationship with Hitachi [Data Systems], and I expect it to continue to be a very important part of what we do. We appeal to a broad range of customers, and within those customers there's a broad range of needs.

The obvious thing to do is continue to build out the product portfolio. We also see lots and lots of opportunity below the midrange, so you'll see us introduce a variety of products. And given that we have ZFS, we can produce very high-performance disk arrays without requiring RAID technology.

We also have a pretty big investment in SAS, and we think that's a great way to change the cost-performance equation for at least some classes of disk products, particularly in the midrange down.

SearchStorage: You historically haven't really sold to SMBs. Are you really talking about small and midsized enterprises?

Fowler: The truth of the matter is that even a big company buys a whole range of product. We don't see enriching the portfolio, from a price point standpoint, to be just an SMB play. We have major customers of Thumper using them for backup or surveillance -- don't necessarily associate price point with size.

SearchStorage: Does Sun plan a replacement for the StorageTek 6920 midrange virtualization array?

Fowler: The customer interest in that class of product is really steered toward either partially populated 9000s or the 6140 and 6540.

SearchStorage: So Sun won't be pursuing storage virtualization below the StorageTek 9000 series?

Fowler: No.

SearchStorage: What about NAS?

Fowler: The NAS strategy is relatively straightforward. We currently ship the 5320 NAS product. We're also building up Solaris to be a platform you can use for NAS.

We've recently integrated a fully multithreaded CIFS implementation into OpenSolaris as well as NDMP for interfaced applications. One of the other functions that people are very excited about is the ability to run applications directly on an open platform. You'll also be able to run any size head end that you want, so you're not really limited on head-end size compared to proprietary NAS companies.

The function there becomes very blurry in terms of software. We will have prepackaged NAS products, but we'll have people who take the software and do things in between. You'll see that in 2008.

SearchStorage: Is that FishWorks?

Fowler: FishWorks is an internal codename that was never supposed to get out. It refers to a portion of the activity around working on that, yes.

SearchStorage: What's Sun's stance on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)?

Fowler: We are on the FCoE committee and are actively working on that standard. There are actually a lot of things going on. There's also Fibre Channel over InfiniBand and Ethernet over InfiniBand, and we're actively involved with those, as well. I think if we can actually get the number of data center networks down, then it does simplify things for customers and ultimately reduces their cost, and we're all for that. I think the only thing is, we want to make sure that these are going to be truly open standards that anyone can implement because it doesn't help the cause if they're proprietary. I think Fibre Channel over Ethernet is going to take a lot longer than Fibre Channel over InfiniBand because there are so many changes to Ethernet that have to happen before [FCoE] will work.

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