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StorageTek users weigh Sun roadmap

Sun talked big about its integration plans for StorageTek at its user forum this week, but users said the proof is in the pudding, particularly when it comes to the mainframe.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Sun Microsystems Inc., was full of promises about its plans for newly acquired Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) at the 17th annual StorageTek Forum user conference this week, but some users remained skeptical of the acquisition, mainly because of Sun's lack of experience in the mainframe arena.

"The overwhelming impression I got was that they did this for Sun and Sun only," said David Woodruff, storage manager for Visa. "There was a lot of talk about them becoming a higher ranked company in the storage market, and my thought was, 'hey, you've got customers, too.' "

Woodruff said his skepticism was particularly sharp when it came to Sun's ability to offer a better mainframe product.

"Sun is an open systems company," Woodruff said. "They don't know anything about the mainframe. They're not going to make as much progress with those products."

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Woodruff was hardly alone. As part of the general sessions held at the conference Wednesday morning, Sun aired a videotape of users discussing their concerns for the acquisition -- a place where the mainframe worries were heard loud and clear.

"Are they going to take away the emphasis from the mainframe?" asked a user. It was one of the first questions shown on the tape.

It's not just Sun's lack of experience in the mainframe world that users said had them worried. Some felt StorageTek, too, had been leaving mainframes behind.

"In the last couple of years, they haven't seemed to be putting much into their mainframe products," said David Harris, senior storage manager for Visa. "Probably because they knew they wanted to sell out to an open systems company."

Nigel Dessau, vice president of the tape group within Sun's data management group , attempted to address the concern. "We are committed to [StorageTek's Virtual Storage Manager (VSM)] and other mainframe products," he said. "We have a roadmap and plans for specific performance improvements, although there are no specific announcements just yet.

"If Sun wasn't committed to the mainframe, if they hadn't convinced me of that, I wouldn't have taken this job," Dessau said. "You can't build tape without it. And if Sun wasn't going to commit to the mainframe, I'd say they just wasted $4.1 billion."

"They aren't as familiar with it," said Mehretab Berhe, manager of data center operations for Highmark, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. "But they have no choice. The mainframe is here to stay."

Rick Fink, storage administrator for Allied Insurance, said he wasn't sure where Sun would take StorageTek, but he knew what he hoped would happen -- that StorageTek's acquisition by a bigger company would help its market share and help convince his managers to stick with StorageTek to backup his IBM mainframes.

"Years went by before IBM had the capability to do snapshots at the data set level with their backups, unlike StorageTek's VSM," he said. "I hope they won't back down from the mainframe or from other vendors."

The roadmap: A few details

In general, according to Sun officials, there's little overlap between Sun and StorageTek product lines to begin with -- something they claim makes their acquisition a more solid one. But there are a few intersections between products, such as StorageTek's Flexline 380 disk array, which clashes with Sun's 6000 line of mid-tier products, and would probably be retired, Sun said.

Further product-related tidbits divulged by Sun include:

  • StorageTek's big tape library, the SL8500, would "remain the heart of the strategy for our portfolio," according to Dessau.
  • Meanwhile, though Sun's 9940 tape library would eventually be retired in favor of the newly announced Titanium 10000, Sun announced at Forum that there will be another generation of the 9840 library.
  • The FlexLine 240 and Sun 6130 mid-tier storage boxes both use the same Engenio Information Technologies controller, and while Sun would continue both "through their natural product lifecycle," according to vice president for product strategy Randy Kerns, "There will be a next-generation product replacing both sometime next year."
  • StorageTek's attempt at primary disk storage, the Flexline 680, would be continued, Kerns said, but would be taken out of the primary storage market.
  • StorageTek also has a storage management software product, the GSM, which Kersaid would be brought under the umbrella of Sun's StorEdge Enterprise Storage Manager.
  • Sun's mid-tier tape library, the C10, OEMed from Quantum, never got off the ground. It'll be officially taken off the roster with StorageTek's integration. Meanwhile, Sun said it would be keeping two other low-end tape drives, the C2 and C4, also an OEM from Quantum, saying they are below StorageTek's market.

"It'll be interesting to see whether this strengthens or weakens both companies," said Bill Towers, storage infrastructure and services manager for the Anheuser-Busch Companies, who is both a Sun and a StorageTek user. "StorageTek has been a good storage partner, and Sun has been a good server partner."

Fleming speculated that Sun's integration of Hitachi Data Systems Inc. products could eliminate some of StorageTek's V2X products in the long run. "They'll want to keep their relationship with Hitachi going," he said.

Services: So far, so good

Finally, users said they feared consolidation and reduction in StorageTek's widely respected services organization, but also said across the board that they had not yet seen any indication that changes would be made.

"Nothing has changed so far, and it's been 60 days," said Samuel Fleming, system analyst for storage management enterprise services with The Boeing Co. "We're feeling pretty confident. Confident enough that we just ordered new hardware from them -- we upgraded our whole VSM system for our IBM mainframe."

Fred Pharis, storage administrator for Convergys Corp., said the appointment of Eula Banks, head of services for StorageTek, had done much to allay his nervousness about Sun curtailing StorageTek's service department. "We have horror stories about service from the Sun side," he admitted, "But they put the StorageTek guy in charge of service, not a Sun guy."

"It would kind of be the tail wagging the dog," said Robert Abraham, president and analyst with Freeman Reports. "StorageTek's sales and service organization is many times bigger than Sun's."

"I don't see that they'll make any changes," said Dianne McAdam, analyst with the Data Mobility Group. "Customers would rebel."

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