Sun claims open storage traction; will Oracle approve?

Sun makes incremental updates to its Amber Road NAS appliances and claims the product line has amassed 800 customers in six months. But will Oracle Corp. approve its future?

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Sun Microsystems Inc. is boosting the capacity of its Amber Road network-attached storage (NAS) appliances, which the vendor says has more than 800 paying customers in the six months since its release. However, Amber Road's future depends upon Oracle Corp. once the firm completes its $5.6 billion acquisition of Sun.

Graham Lovell, Sun's senior director of open storage, said approximately 8,700 people have downloaded the "simulator" demo version of the FISHworks/Amber Road software since last November. The software includes CIFS, NFS and VMware integration, as well as automated provisioning of solid-state storage in some models and performance analytics.

Sun is adding capacity to two of its Amber Road appliance models today. The entry-level Sun Storage 7110 system's maximum capacity doubles to 4 TB with the addition of 300 GB SAS disks. The Sun Storage 7210 midrange model based on Sun's Thumper direct-attached storage (DAS) array now supports two expansion disk trays, bringing its total capacity to 142 TB with 1 TB SATA disks – up from 48 TB in the original model.

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After undergoing several internal reorganizations since swallowing StorageTek for $4.1 billion in 2005, Sun's storage business may have finally caught on with open storage – but after was too late for the rest of the company. Following a public courting with IBM Corp., Sun is waiting for Oracle to close the acquisition announced last month.

Regis Harrisson, director of production and technologies at the TV5 Quebec Canada network, said his company chose the Sun Storage 7410 Unified Storage System last fall over offerings from EMC Corp. and Isilon Systems Inc. The network was looking for nearline/archival storage to free up space on an aging Apple XSan array used for online video editing, and brought the 7410 in for that purpose. But the 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) compatible 7410 actually offered more bandwidth than the 1 Gbps legacy Apple system, so it became the network's primary storage device.

The 7410 has a single NAS head, where EMC's Celerra NS-480 and Isilon Systems' IQ series clustered NAS could offer more than one for failover. But Harrisson said Isilon's quote for 60 TB of storage was approximately $250,000 vs. $156,000 for the Celerra and $106,000 for Sun. Harrisson said he knows clustering can offer more redundancy, but "it's a lot of money for a small company."

Harrisson said the network has used Sun's tape libraries in the past, but he's well acquainted with EMC gear. Aside from price, Sun's product is an industry-standard and developed by an open-source community, which appealed to him. "Even if Sun goes away, I'm more comfortable that I can still use the storage," Harrisson said.

But he admitted that he's nervous about what will happen once Sun is absorbed into Oracle. "I think Oracle bought them for software, not hardware," he said.

Oracle has said as much, although company executives have also said they intend to keep Sun's hardware business. Harrisson said he hopes Oracle continues with plans that Sun reps told him about to integrate Amber Road software with his broadcast system.

Lovell said he couldn't comment on the Oracle-Sun deal or product roadmaps pertaining to that acquisition. Analysts have said that if Oracle stays in the hardware business, it will be a game-changer for the storage market.

"The statements coming out of Oracle at the time of the acquisition, particularly from Larry Ellison, were that they very much want to own that product line," said John Webster, principal IT advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. "I think Oracle's been interested in the storage business for a long time."

Others aren't so sure. Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, pointed out that Oracle benchmarked its SecureFiles file management software with an LSI Corp./Engenio SAN last week, instead of with hardware made by Sun. LSI and Oracle officials said Sun's Zettabyte File System (ZFS) could be used at the storage layer, but as Boles said, "How do you work those two things together? At best in that scenario, ZFS would be a 'Who cares?' layer under SecureFiles."

Boles also said Oracle and Sun have different philosophies. "Oracle tends to go after the enterprise market with price premiums, which Sun has pooh-poohed," he pointed out. With the source code already open, "somebody is going to take these products to market as Sun has. If Oracle doesn't want this business, they're opening the door for someone else. But if they do want it, they're in for a change," he said.

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