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Analysts ask if Sun's open storage plan can address enterprise storage problems

Beth Pariseau, Senior News Writer

Sun Microsystems Inc. said this week that its open storage strategy is taking off in the market. However, some storage analysts remain unconvinced that Sun's open storage strategy is addressing problems that enterprise storage customers are trying to solve.

Sun said that membership in its OpenSolaris storage community is up 20% in the last six months and that the company has 40 new

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open storage projects. Three of these projects are:

  • Project File System in User SpacE (FUSE), which separates the file system from the operating system kernel in ZFS deployments. This means that Linux applications which use Linux file systems can be ported to OpenSolaris and vice versa.
  • Project Common Array Manager (CAM), a device manager for disk drives and arrays written in Java, so that users with programming expertise can write their own extensions to Sun's array management software.
  • Project Celeste, described as "a peer-to-peer and fault-tolerant distributed storage system." Celeste stores data as files, and this stored data is replicated on many different nodes and allows for the availability of data in the event there is a loss or absence of some subset of these nodes.

     

According to Graham Lovell, senior director of Sun's Systems Group, CAM is Sun's "equivalent of HP's StorageWorks software, except users will be able to customize and extend it for their own particular environments."

Of Celeste, Lovell said that it is not your typical clustered NAS system. Other nodal systems use the same protocols to communicate between nodes and with application servers, while Celeste won't be subject to those types of strictures. But asked which protocols Celeste would support, Lovell said he wasn't sure.

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Customer using ZFS without Sun storage

A new user of Sun open storage is OurStage, a Web 2.0 music delivery site for independent artists. Site infrastructure manager Mark Niedzielski said that OurStage began with whitebox storage hardware and a Linux distribution called CentOS. However, when the company's online business began demanding more performance than the Linux OS and file system could handle, Niedzielski tried Sun's 128-bit file system, ZFS.

OurStage remains a satisfied ZFS user, but Niedzielski said he is not involved in any of the open storage projects. The company is also still using its whitebox hardware, flying in the face of Sun's strategy to earn revenue from free software by dragging hardware and services sales along with it.

However, as his data continues to grow, Niedzielski said he will probably migrate to a Sun server. "We've discovered some limitations in the whitebox hardware, mostly in internal I/O capabilities, meaning there will be a day when we need something more powerful," he said. "When that day arrives, we'll call Sun."

Sun's storage growth lagging?

Storage analysts remain skeptical about the broader business plan for storage at Sun, which has limped along in sales of storage hardware while most of its rivals post strong numbers. Sun did pick up last quarter, reporting $664 million in revenue for a 3.9% year-over-year increase, but that failed to match the storage growth of EMC, NetApp, IBM, Heweltt-Packard and others.

On Sun's Aug. 1 earnings call, CEO Jonathan Schwartz said that billings for the SunFire X4500 server, known as Thumper, were up 37% year over year, but did not say what those revenues are. "We're not in the stage where we're saying specific numbers," Lovell said. "But we have enjoyed an increased level of business."

"[Attaching server hardware sales to free software is] a great theory, but so far the revenue numbers aren't really supporting the argument," said John Webster, an analyst with market research firm Illuminata. "In fact, they've let services people go recently."

"They're talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichman. "On the one hand, they're saying that hardware is commoditized [by embracing x86 for servers]. On the other side, they're saying they'll give away software for free and make it up in hardware."

According to Reichman, Sun has some good ideas and good individual products, like ZFS, "but they're not doing a good enough job of putting things together to solve real-world business problems." FUSE, CAM and Celeste, he noted, "are interesting for a few specific use cases, but they're just not addressing problems that the enterprise storage customers I talk to are trying to solve."

Other analysts are taking a wait-and-see approach. "Sun is seeing some success in university and high-performance computing environments where customers are using Thumper and Lustre to build and integrate their own massively scalable NAS farms," said analyst Terri McClure, Enterprise Strategy Group. "But unless Sun opens the kimono and provides some details, we may never know the impact it's had on Sun's business."

 

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