Sun adds midrange arrays to 'traditional' storage line

Despite its recent open storage push, Sun says it also plans to continue to offer traditional Fibre Channel SAN OEM products.

Sun Microsystems Inc. rolled out two new models in its Sun Storage 6000 series of "traditional" Fibre Channel (FC) disk arrays today, despite a strong push over the last year to ramp up its Open Storage line of products.

The midrange systems, the Sun Storage 6780 and 6580, are based on LSI Corp.'s Engenio 7900 storage system, and will also be made available as heads that can repurpose existing Sun Storage 6000 capacity behind the 6780 and 6580 controllers. The Sun arrays support 4 Gbps FC and 1 Gigabit iSCSI connections to the host, but customers will be able to swap out or mix those interfaces with 8 Gbps FC or 10 Gbps iSCSI in the future. Both arrays support FC and SATA disks, as well as RAID 6.

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The difference between the new midrange arrays is size—the 6580 has eight ports, 8 GB cache and can scale up to 256 drives, while the 6780 offers 16 ports, 8 GB or 16 GB cache (with 32 GB DRAM cache sizes to come), and supports up to 448 disks.

Nancy Hart, Sun's general manager for primary arrays, says she expects8 Gbps FC and 10 Gbps iSCSI support this year. She says Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disk drive interfaces and support for the emerging Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) interface are on Sun's roadmap, but declined to give timeframes. The arrays also lack storage virtualization features such as disk pooling and thin provisioning that most of Sun's competitors offer in the midrange.

Customers can convert existing storage capacity to a 6580 or 6780 with a one-time $750 transfer fee for each existing license to be converted, "rather than the way competitors charge all new license fees, up to tens of thousands of dollars, for upgrades," says Hart.

The 6580 array controller has a list price of $59,995, while the 6780 controller costs $89,995.

Sun hasn't been pushing its traditional storage business as much since it began focusing on Open Storage over the past year or so. Sun has encouraged users to create "do-it-yourself storage" based on open-source software licenses, and Sun server hardware gave rise to its "Amber Road" 7000 line of disk products in November. On Sun's second fiscal quarter earnings call on January 25, the company highlighted Open Storage as a growth trend—billings were up 21% vs. the same quarter last year—with higher margins than the traditional disk business. Sun's disk business, meanwhile, declined 5% vs. the same quarter a year ago.

Sun's traditional disk business is OEM-driven. Besides the LSI systems for the midrange, Sun rebrands Hitachi Data Systems' storage as its 9000 enterprise systems and Dot Hill Systems Corp. boxes for its 2500 family of entry-level storage. Its disk storage systems aren't unique to Sun – IBM Corp.'s DS5000 is built on the same LSI arrays as Sun's 6000 series, and Hitachi Data Systems and Hewlett-Packard Co. sell enterprise arrays based on Hitachi arrays.

But the traditional storage business remains an essential revenue stream for Sun, bringing in $386 million in revenue vs. $31 million for Open Storage. "Traditional disk was the second largest hardware line item in Sun's billings disclosure last week," points out Hart.

"Traditional storage is still a major part of Sun's server-attach storage business," notes John Webster, principal IT advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. However, Sun finds itself in a potentially awkward position, says Webster, pointing out the Open Storage line is "one place it appears Sun's open-source initiatives have been working. The problem is [that] it does tend to conflict with another revenue source [Sun] can't do without."

As a result, expect Sun to continue on these two tracks for a while, "maybe ad infinitum," says Webster. "Sun can still leverage its brand with the OEM strategy as it also tries to compete with its own IP."

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