Sun Microsystems Inc. is enhancing its tape and virtual tape platforms, even as it prepares to turn the business over to Oracle Corp.
Oracle's $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun – expected to close within months – will make it one of two major enterprise tape vendors along with IBM Corp. Nobody knows for sure what Oracle plans to do with the tape business that Sun acquired from StorageTek in 2005, but Sun is proceeding with its planned roadmap until the Oracle deal closes.
The enhancements Sun disclosed today include the entry-level Sun StorageTek Virtual Storage Manager VSM5e virtual tape library (VTL) designed for disaster recovery (DR) and test sites, a three-time capacity increase of the VSM5 VTL to 90 TB maximum, an expansion module with redundant robotics for its StorageTek SL3000 midrange tape library, and Enterprise Library software to manage all of Sun's mainframe libraries.
Sun's press release said the upgrades demonstrate "an unwavering commitment to enterprise storage customers," but that commitment will ultimately have to come from Oracle. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has publicly stated that Oracle will maintain Sun's tape and other hardware business, although SEC filings show he was first attracted to Sun for its software.
Sun customer Mark Lemmons, chief technology officer at Thought Equity Motion Inc., a Denver-based video and film archive company, said the Oracle deal alleviated some of his concerns about the stability of Sun's tape business.
"Time will tell, but the best part about it is everybody is looking for stability and it was a vote of confidence that Oracle and [Sun suitor] IBM wanted what Sun could provide," he said. "Oracle isn't a name that jumps to mind when I think about storage, but increasingly storage and data management is interchangeable."
Fred Moore, president at storage consultant Horison Information Strategies in Boulder, Colo., said Sun's tape business is probably better off with Oracle than it would have been with IBM.
"Compared to how Sun viewed storage, I think everyone is excited [about the Oracle acquisition]," Moore said. "StorageTek was an uncomfortable fit for Sun. The chairman seldom mentioned tape. Larry Ellison said he wants to keep Sun's storage business. And there's no direct product overlap as there would have been had IBM bought Sun."
Tape's changing role in enterprise storage
Moore and Lemmons agree that tape still has its place in enterprise storage. Moore said tape is well positioned for archiving, but maintains that tape vendors haven't done a good job of marketing it that way.
"The role of tape is changing," he said. "It's primarily role has been for backup and recovery for disk drives. Now the industry is more often using lower-cost disk drives for backup and recovery. But tape is the optimum place for the boom in fixed content for compliance and archival data – write once, read seldom if ever, but you have to have it available."
Moore added that "Disk backup doesn't kill tape, it just takes an application away. There's a big wave coming over the wall, the dike's about to break. But do the remaining tape vendors see this wave and what are they going to do about it?"
Lemmons said Thought Equity Motion uses its Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drives inside two StorageTek SL8500 libraries as "live storage" for its online film and video archive. Thought Equity Motion has 3 petabytes (3 PB) of data on tape at its data center in Laramie, Wyo., and retrieves images when customers license them.
"We're treating this storage as if it's live storage," he said. "When a customer needs a file, they need it now. A robot grabs the tape and retrieves the file. We're treating it like disk, and we need a high-performance system as a result."
Lemmons said tape is also more cost-efficient than disk, especially with the capacity his company requires.
"I can buy disk cheap at Best Buy, but enterprise disk is expensive," he said. "You pay a lot of money for disk when you're at the petabyte range. There's a lot of overhead, and a lot of power consumption. It's great to have three petabytes sitting there [of tape] that only consumes power when it's being used."
Lemmons said the firm's director of Web operations, Brian Noecker, tells him every couple of weeks, "'We need x amount of storage this week, can we buy it?' We pop in the media and we go. That's why we love tape."
Alex North, Sun's group manager for data protection and archive, said the role of tape is changing less for mainframes than for open systems.
"The mainframe user has always been savvy enough to take advantage of disk and tape," North said. "It's not about backup per se as [much as] it is open systems; it's more of a migration from tape to disk. On the open systems side, there has been an evolving trend toward virtual tape or disk-based backup, but primarily on the low end. There are still advantages for certain workloads with tape."