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Sun CEO dons rose-colored storage glasses

The political conventions are over, but Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz is spinning Sun storage in a way that would make any candidate proud.

In his latest blog, Schwartz points to recent figures from market research firm IDC as validation of Sun’s open storage strategy. Those numbers release last week showed Sun with the greatest increase of overall storage revenue among the major vendors – up 29.2 percent. Gartner also chimed in by placing Sun’s growth at 34.7 percent in external storage revenue, again tops among the large vendors.

But it’s too early to praise Sun for a great turnaround. Sun ranks seventh in external storage in both lists – behind EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Hitachi Data Systems, Dell, and NetApp, and fifth on IDC’s list of all storage sales. In each case, Sun’s market share is in single digits.

Sun’s own figures aren’t nearly as cheery for storage. Sun reported a modest revenue increase of 3.9% year-over-year in its earnings report for last quarter – the same quarter IDC and Garnter was reporting on.

It’s also hard to attribute any gains to the open storage initiative. Sun is growing storage revenue for the same reason almost every other vendor is: much more data is stored digitally than ever before, and that trend is still accelerating.

IDC and Gartner attributed Sun rise with big increases in midrange and enterprise disk products, and those systems don’t reflect increases in open storage use. Those systems aren’t even Sun’s IP — they come from OEM deals with Hitachi, LSI, and Dot Hill.

Sun’s Thumper is tied to open storage, and that only generated $100 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30 according to Schwartz’s blog. Thumper revenue grew 80 percent over last year, but is still “relatively small” as Schwartz put it on the earnings call.

Perhaps there will be reasons to cheer Sun storage soon, although the jury is still out. Sun seems to be keeping up with the market in its embrace of solid state disk and may soon see the fruits of its Fishworks project, which could help drive open source storage. According to Schwartz:

Now, our view is “OpenStorage” (systems built from commodity parts and open source software) will grow far faster than the proprietary storage market. We plan on driving that growth, and over the next few months, you’ll see a tremendous amount of storage innovation targeting the growing breadth of customers wanting better/faster/cheaper/smaller options. Expect to see flash, zfs, dtrace, and good old fashioned systems engineering play a very prominent role in an aggressive push into the storage market.

Time may prove Schwartz right about open storage. But we’ve seen no evidence of any great success yet.

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