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Sun tucks software into Solaris, may sell off 6920

Sun is rumored to be selling off its 6920 product; all storage software is now in the Solaris group -- and questions still remain about its future in the storage business.

Behind the scenes, Sun Microsystems Inc. has continued to reshuffle its storage deck, both in terms of personnel, as in the past, and now in terms of products, has learned.

On the hardware side, according to a source inside Sun, the company is said to be looking for a buyer for its 6920 product, which is based on the Pirus Networks Inc. technology acquired in 2002 for $160 million.

According to the same internal source, there has been an ongoing battle around this virtualization platform, as it competed with the high-end arrays Sun rebranded from Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS), which already comes with virtualization built in. Sun was never able to get the marketing straight on why it needed both of these products -- and now it may turn out that they don't.

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Insider sources have also told SearchStorage that there may be at least one buyer already interested in this product. And while virtualization isn't the biggest differentiator among disk products, in several years, it very well could be -- leading some industry experts to speculate that Sun would want to stay in the loop with the product even if it sells it off.

"It would make sense, if they're looking to divest one of their technologies, to sell to one of their suppliers first, like an Engenio [Information Technology Inc.], Dot Hill [Systems Corp.] or Quantum [Corp.]," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group.

Meanwhile, the restructuring that began with the resignation of company founder and CEO Scott McNealy, and a shakeup in the storage group last month, continues on the software side as well, according to Sun spokesperson Michelle Parkinson.

Now, in further efforts to trim the fat, all storage software, including QFS, SAM-FS and Honeycomb, all of which run on Solaris, will now be developed and marketed under the Solaris group headed up by Rich Green, executive vice president (VP) of software.

The shift has been undertaken "to help drive closer alignment and integration with Sun's Solaris operating system and our storage software products, including SAM-FS and QFS," Parkinson wrote SearchStorage in an email. "The VP who's running the group comes from our storage engineering organization and will sit on David Yen's staff and report to Jeff Jackson who runs Solaris development."

All storage operations are moving out of Sun's base in Newark, Calif., which is being sold off, to StorageTek's base in Louisville, Colo. Many personnel from the California location were laid off, including head of engineering Fidelma Russo. Russo joins several executives who have bailed out of StorageTek and Sun, post merger, including Mark Canepa, Brenda Zawatski and James Whitemore.

A major shift in storage strategy?

Some industry experts believe these moves would continue in a positive vein for Sun consolidation, especially since it had previously been a point of confusion as to why it kept seemingly competitive products in its portfolio, including the 6920, when it already OEMed HDS' TagmaStore, as well as its midrange 6000 line, which has butted up against an OEMed product from Engenio.

If so, then some experts are asking where Sun is headed in general. Is it "back to the future" following Sun's aggression in acquiring Pirus and then StorageTek? Will Sun regress to a reseller of disk without being a developer?

"I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Sun streamline its storage offerings around OEMs and codevelopment, where they've had most of their success in the past," Schulz said.

"It seems to me that someone has made a decision to get out of the 'gray zone' of being stuck halfway between servers and storage. Since they acquired StorageTek, they've been neither fish or fowl," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group.

Taneja also said he thought letting StorageTek's personnel in Colorado stand alone was the best move they could make to save the business at this point.

"Leaving StorageTek alone and letting them grow is probably the best thing they could do," he said. "Although with all the upheaval in the last six months, there's no guarantee."

Sun declined to comment on the current plans around the 6920. As for general strategy, Parkinson wrote, "our strategy continues to be to OEM the products that make sense to OEM and dedicate engineering resources to developing innovative new storage platforms, like the recently announced Sun StorageTek 6140 and 6540 modular storage products, and our integrated server/storage products like Thumper and Honeycomb."

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