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Oracle pledges to continue Sun's open source storage and tape products

Oracle executives lay out their strategy after acquisition of Sun, and say they intend to continue selling Sun tape and enterprise data storage hardware.

Oracle Corp. executives Wednesday said they intend to use Sun Microsystems Inc.'s storage product portfolio to compete in the disk and tape business – in support of and outside of Oracle's software applications -- now that its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun is finally complete.

Oracle finally laid out its integration strategy following months of delay caused by the European Commission's scrutiny of the deal. During the delay, it was unclear how much of a role storage would play in the new company but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said he expects to increase share in key storage markets.

"We're in both businesses -- we're in the best-of-breed components business … and in the complete integrated systems business," Ellison said during an all-day webcast.

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Ellison even threw down the gauntlet directly at one of Sun's fiercest storage competitors, NetApp Inc., which has traded lawsuits with Sun over patent infringement related to the open source Zettabyte File System (ZFS).

"If you're a NetApp user, you should look at the [Oracle] ZFS Storage Appliance -- it's kind of a next-generation NetApp storage appliance," Ellison said. "We expect to take share in servers, we expect to take share in storage, and we expect to take share in archival tape."

While ZFS and Sun's open storage products (sold by Sun as the 7000 series, but rechristened by Oracle as the ZFS Storage Appliance) were previously integrated by Oracle into the Exadata 2 database machine before the Sun deal closed, it remained unclear how much interest Oracle had in Sun's tape business. Sun became the leader in the shrinking tape market when it acquired StorageTek in 2005.

John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems group and now executive vice president of hardware engineering at Oracle, said StorageTek tape would continue in Oracle's product lines, positioned for long-term data archiving. The ZFS Storage Appliance will also be sold with tape libraries for mixed disk/tape infrastructures. "We're going to continue our roadmap of continued enhancements around drive library technologies this year," Fowler said.

Enhancements planned for the 7000 series include developing a set of predefined objects under Oracle applications to simplify provisioning within the storage device, as well as a storage appliance for Oracle virtual machines, Fowler said.

Jason Williams, chief technology officer (CTO) of Sun open storage customer Digitar, said he is looking forward to future development of Sun storage, especially the data deduplication that Sun recently added to ZFS. "We use hybrid storage pools extensively on OpenSolaris and with the 7410 we have," Williams wrote to in an email. "So our interest is mostly on the storage appliance and OS side. We're very interested in the deduplication features that are about to be launched in the 7000 and have already been put into OpenSolaris."

Integration roadmap

While Oracle executives said they would offer Sun's storage on its own, much of the talk on Wednesday focused on how the two companies' product lines will be more tightly stitched together.

Oracle president Charles Phillips said that with engineering from both companies now under one roof, "We will be optimizing the entire machine for performance … as opposed to everything has to go in the storage or everything has to go in the database."

Oracle executives said there's also more coming along the lines of Exadata, as well as improvements to the Exadata product, including faster compute nodes, offline storage cell access, and improved processor performance for data warehousing and online transaction processing (OLTP) applications.

Reporting, monitoring and support will also be more tightly integrated in combined Sun and Oracle products, according to Oracle executive vice president of product development Thomas Kurian. "If a disk controller is having a problem, or there's a stuck operating system thread, we know by having certain events raised to us from the operating system and firmware to recognize those events and then respond to them by redirecting the workload to other nodes," he said.

Kurian said Oracle will also merge its Enterprise Manager with Sun's Operations Center management consoles, and support will merge through Oracle's MyOracleSupport portal. "By capturing much more intelligence about what's occurring on your systems and moving that to Oracle support, we can proactively help you manage your systems better," Kurian said.

Analysts mull ramifications for enterprise data storage industry

Analysts see the entry of the world's biggest database company into the hardware infrastructure market as a potential game changer for storage vendors. "This is a wakeup call to the storage industry," wrote IDC analyst Benjamin Woo in an email to "Sun has been relatively dormant in the last six to 12 months. Now integrated with Oracle, they will present a viable alternative to NetApp, EMC, [and] Hewlett-Packard. The Oracle/Sun model is more software driven than the HP (hardware approach), or services driven approach (Acadia, VCE). The customer will now have greater choice."

In a note to clients Wednesday, Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research analyst Aaron Rakers pointed out Oracle's pledge to put $4.3 billion toward R&D in fiscal 2011 as compared with other vendors' plans for R&D spending. Rakers estimates Hewlett-Packard will spend $2.9 billion on R&D this year, EMC will spend $1.9 billion and NetApp $510 million. "We believe Oracle/Sun's strategy will also continue to raise the question about Dell's long-term strategy/positioning in the enterprise data center market going forward," Rakers wrote.

Forrester Research senior analyst Andrew Reichman isn't so sure. "Sun wasn't really getting much traction with their storage portfolio, in spite of some interesting point pieces, Amber Road [code name for the 7000 series] being one of them," he wrote to in an email. "I'm not sure if this is what [Ellison] feels like he has to say to prop up the value of Sun, which has been diminishing rapidly, or if he really plans to stand behind it. In my humble opinion, they should focus on what [Sun] can do to build the relevance of Oracle, and grow their wallet share among database customers, rather than trying to go head to head with every infrastructure company in the world."

Pund-IT principal analyst Charles King also pulled no punches about Sun's fortunes in the market prior to its rescue by Oracle. "Ellison's enthusiasm for Sun hardware should be considered in the context of client management," King wrote. "Oracle is the database of choice in a large majority of Sun-populated datacenters. In the short term, falling faith in Sun hardware would impact Oracle's bottom line."

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, said Oracle is still at least one piece shy of being able to match Hewlett-Packard and IBM blow-for-blow.

"I still think Larry [Ellison] needs to do at least one more big play and that's for a services group; that is, beef up his hosting, and his consulting and services story to compete with HP and IBM," Schulz said.

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