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Sun plots open source storage initiative

Sun has announced a new strategy around open source that is meant to be a competitor to NetApp and Microsoft, according to industry sources.Updated 4/10/07

Update as of 4/10/07: Sun Microsystems Inc. has, in fact, announced that it is opening the source code for a number of storage-related software products. The company stated in a press release that the new applications will "enable community members to combine OpenSolaris with hardware from any source to create compelling storage solutions at a fraction of the price of traditional proprietary storage vendors."

The products opened as a part of this announcement include the previously Sun-only administration features of Solaris ZFS. Sun and its partners also "donated" several pieces of storage management software to Open Solaris, including Point-in-Time Copy data service and Remote Mirror data service; NFS v4.1 (also known as parallel NFS); iSCSI device drivers; Object-based storage device drivers and relatedsoftware; and a QLogic Fibre Channel HBA driver.

Not a part of this announcement, however, are any specific NAS products--though it's easy to see how a new NAS box could come out of the ingredients assembled above, especially considering the centerpiece of the "donations" is the ZFS file system. Sun remains coy when it comes to what specific products might follow this announcement down the road.

The initiative, that some say is code-named FISH for fully integrated software and hardware, will feature NAS on servers running Solaris. It will include the ZFS file system and another open source performance-monitoring tool called DTrace. The goal is to generate interest in Sun's NAS storage products in the open source community where Java has already been a success.

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Also opened to developers, according to sources, will be code belonging to other Sun storage applications, including Sun StorEdge Instant Image snapshot software.

Sun officials have briefed analysts over the last week on the goal of making open source NAS packages the preferred platform for software developers making appliances. The plan is to use the package to drive storage hardware sales, according to those in the know.

Experts are split on the ultimate direction of the strategy. Some sources familiar with the project speculate the package is meant to create an open source competitor for Microsoft's Windows Storage Server products, which have been boxed up by storage vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Dell Inc. into small business NAS products.

Others said the idea is to compete with Network Appliance Inc.'s (NetApp) proprietary NAS operating system, Data OnTap, with an open source equivalent.

"It's all about the famous ecosystem with [CEO] Jonathan [Schwartz] -- this is his version of it for storage," said an industry analyst speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sun officials confirmed there is an announcement slated for next week, but declined comment as to its subject. The new NAS plan would be in line with a recent reorganization of Sun's engineering resources. Last week, the company moved its server-based NAS product lines, which include the Thumper X4500 direct attached storage (DAS) product and the Honeycomb content-addressed storage (CAS) archive product, under John Fowler in the systems business.

Nigel Dessau, senior vice president of storage marketing and business operations at Sun, also hinted about a new NAS product at the time of that announcement. "We're preparing a new NAS campaign," Dessau said, referring to it as NAS 2.0. According to Dessau, Sun is planning to develop products using an "open source NAS stack based on general purpose hardware," namely Sun SPARC servers running Solaris.

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