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Sun gives Thumper storage server a bump in power, expandability

As part of its open storage initiative, Sun brings out a new Thumper storage server and dense JBODs as storage for systems built with Open Solaris and ZFS.

To support its open storage strategy, Sun Microsystems Inc. is rolling out hardware, including a larger Thumper storage server and a series of JBODs. Customers can run their open source software on the JBODs, which can also serve as storage for low-cost NAS and iSCSI SANs.

The larger Thumper, officially known as the SunFire X4540 storage server, has twice the CPU and memory of the X4500 Thumper that it will eventually replace. The new Thumper was upgraded from a dual-core to quad-core AMD processor, scales to 48 drives and can connect to Sun's JBODs for better expandability.

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The JBODs come in three flavors: the Sun Storage J4200 with up to 12 drives per tray and 46 SAS or SATA drives; Sun Storage J4400 with up to four drives per tray, six SAS ports per tray for a maximum of 192 SAS/SATA drives; and the J4500 four-rack unit with 48 drives per tray, four SAS ports and a maximum of 480 SATA drives.

Jason Schaffer, director of storage product management for Sun, said that customers can build low-cost NAS or iSCSI SANs by running Open Solaris and Sun ZFS as part of Sun's open storage initiative. Thumper has been certified with the MySQL database, Greenplum data warehouse, CopperEyes secure data retrieval and Zmanda ZRM for MySQL data backup software.

"This leverages open source software, industry-standard hardware, and an open API," Schaffer said, adding that Thumper is designed primarily for applications such as high-performance computing (HPC), storage grid and video streaming.

LIfting Thumper's restraints

Chuck Sears, manager for research computing at Oregon State's College for Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS), has purchased two 48-drive J4500s with 750 GB SATA disks. He's also evaluating the new Thumper model to use as a NAS head in front of the JBODs. Sears said previous Thumper systems didn't scale enough for him to buy one.

"The big thing is the ability to go beyond one 48-disk box," Sears said. "The new Thumper can act as a head node. You can attach JBOD units onto the Thumper or use the Thumper as a standalone NFS server. Traditionally, Thumper was constrained to one box, but now they're adding the JBOD so Thumper arrays can be expanded too."

COAS has more than 1 PB of storage on Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun arrays to support research that requires large continuous streams of multi-dimensional data on how the earth responds to climate change. Sears said the ability to scale easily is crucial to his organization, and that's why he likes the open storage and JBOD combination. Instead of trying to figure out how much capacity he needs for a project up front, he can add disk as he goes along.

"Tying Open Solaris with ZFS allows us to build up on demand by scaling out as our storage pools change," Sears said. "Now we've got a series of building blocks, and we can add and expand our pools. Let's say in two years we need more computational resources and we change the hardware that our storage pools are bound to. I can just physically move that over using ZFS import tools. I can re-attach ZFS metadata on the whole series of arrays I've built up. Before, I'd have to build up a second silo of storage, move storage from one area to another and physically copy it."

COAS isn't using any of Sun's open source applications, but Sears said he will eventually look at some of them. For now, his group is using in-house software for backup, snapshots and other applications.

Can open storage open doors for Sun?

Open storage is Sun's latest attempt at trying to jumpstart a lagging storage business. IDC analyst Rick Villars said Sun has an opportunity because of rapid storage growth, particularly in industries without traditional SANs.

"These products aren't going to replace the SAN world, but industries like media, healthcare and telecom are building architectures where they're starting with a foundation of a server-storage combination," Villars said. "That's where open storage is going to prove its worth. You'll see them go after some existing markets like iSCSI and VTLs, but they're better served going after the new markets. That's the faster growth area."

Villars said one risk of open storage is that by developing new applications, Sun may find itself competing with the partners it uses for products such as archiving and backup. "Sun is in a challenging position – what applications does Sun need to develop versus what applications do they need to use partners? Every time they build something themselves, it makes it harder to build up their portfolio of partners," he said.

Pricing for the new Thumper begins at $22,000. Starting prices for the JBODs range from $3,000 for the J4200 with 500 GB to $28,000 for the J4500 with 24 TB.

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