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New Sun exec talks storage strategy

Sun Microsystems made some interesting acquisitions in 2002, most notably the purchase of intelligent switch startup Pirus Networks. Now that the deal is done, Pirus' former president and CEO, Rich Napolitano, has settled into his new role as vice president of Sun's data services platform group and, as such, has been charged with bringing the company's virtualization platform to market as the first phase of Sun's N1 software initiative.

Napolitano recently spoke with and shared his insights into Sun's storage strategy, its partnerships and how a systems company can keep pace with its storage competitors in 2003.

You were the president and CEO of Pirus. What's your day-to-day role within Sun? I was involved in setting the...

initial strategy of the intelligent switch platform at Pirus. At Sun, I am the vice president of the data services platform group. The original Pirus team is still substantially intact within Sun. My [job] is to deliver Sun's data service platform to market. [The data services platform] is an intelligent platform that's very scalable. It consists of virtualization, dynamic multipathing, security and, over time, CIFs and NFS support and synchronous and asynchronous replication capabilities. The platform will be delivered via an integrated solution and a standalone product some time this year. Experts have said that Sun has been letting the likes of Hewlett-Packard capture its captive market for too long. How can you stay competitive against IBM, HP, Hitachi Data Systems and EMC? We have a different strategy than most of those companies. Our strategy is to partner with some of them for low-end and high-end storage products, and those partnerships are going to last a long, long time. People speculate that Sun is going to throw out HDS or Veritas, but these partnerships last five to 10 years. People tend to want to come to these conclusions that vendors compete and can't work together. It's called co-opetition. Do we want to expand our product line up and down? Sure, but there's enough end-user demand out there to keep all of us growing for a long time. How is Sun's storage business structured in relation to the server and software units? They are all on the same level. Mark Canepa is the executive vice president of network storage. He reports directly to [Sun CEO] Scott McNealy. Canepa built the midrange storage business at Sun from a few hundred million dollars to billions. Giving [the storage business] to Mark shows the emphasis on storage within the company. Can you explain the Sun N1 software initiative? N1 is really about simplifying the data center. It's about simplifying the network, servers and their applications and storage. The data services platform group and network storage group have little to do with server applications. We provision and virtualize the storage subsystems to fulfill their I/O needs. The services platform and Pirus technology provides the virtualization and plugs into N1. At Sun we haven't reconciled all of our jargon yet, but while the messaging might not be right the engineering is. Sun just expanded its relationship with Brocade to resell the new low-end SilkWorm 3200 storage switch. How does the technology Sun acquired from Pirus differ from what Brocade is in the process of acquiring from Rhapsody Networks? Can a comparison be made? Rhapsody was really focused on core switching. Their box had great fan out and really focused on virtualization, but if they attempted to run a file system it would be almost impossible. They built a switch with great scalability and ASICs on every port that is going to be low-cost. [Pirus] built a data services platform. How will Pirus' technology work with the also-acquired Terraspring technology? What will that enable? Pirus is about storage. Terraspring is about the data center. At the heart of Terraspring is their ability to abstract and represent a data center in an object form. Once you can abstract that, you can replicate and reproduce it. Pirus had the platform and the technology. When we talk about virtualization of storage, we talk about the data path. TerraSpring focuses on the control path. Do you think the industry will bounce back in 2003? The signs that I see are interest in new things, which in itself is a new thing. CIOs are willing to talk to you about new things. They're asking us 'what do you have in your bag of tricks?' They're interested in things other than TCO and ROI. Let us know what you think about the story. E-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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What is Sun's stance on InfiniBand? On IP storage? When will these technologies find their way into Sun's products and in what form?
We're looking at all of this [technology]. InfiniBand is not a storage interconnect, but it's a pretty good backplane interconnect for servers. InfiniBand scales well and goes box-to-box. We like it for that. Pirus had iSCSI technology. [We don't think] iSCSI is going to replace Fibre Channel. SCSI-attached disk still accounts for 40% of all storage. Fibre Channel disk just passed SCSI last year. The idea that iSCSI will change the world tomorrow is ridiculous. We are in the trough of disillusionment with iSCSI right now, but now we can sort through all of that and get down to business.

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