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Sun takes the high ground against EMC

And debuts new four letter acronym. Begins with 'J'. Bzzzzt...

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Sun's latest J-word comes out of the closet today as it unveils its masterplan for network attached storage.

Jiro is Sun's management framework for looking after the boxes of disks that will be littering data centres - and probably homes too - pretty shortly. It's the culmination of a slew of alliances that Sun has been building up with disk vendors and - we hesitate here, as older hands correctly identify the acronym 'SAN' with system area networks rather than storage area networks [get on with it - ed] - SAN vendors.

This new SAN business is made possible by a combination of very fast network links (Gigabit Ethernet) and commodity-style switching (Infinband). These enable the storage to be linked to the CPU as quickly (or, as near as dammit) as yer old internal parallel bus. So you no longer have to have your disks in the box, but somewhere on the network.

Which for computer manufacturers means that a lucrative slice of the pie - adding disks - flies right out of the sales equation, and for disk manufacturers, a tempting and equally lucrative opportunity flies right in: which is as they put it, the business of (cough) "strategically enhancing the topology of the data center". Ie, adding disks...

So, cooking up an industry standard and letting it float towards some friendly disk vendors is a very Sun thing to do. And normally it would make a whole lot of sense.

The wildcard - actually, there are two - boils down to this. If you stack a load of disks - and let's face it folks, that's all it is - that anyone on your network can talk to, then you're really talking about a cluster. A real old school, shared-everything cluster in the VAXish sense of the word.

Where's the magic in that? Well, as our Sun friends are the first to admit, it's only in the software. Or rather, getting one software standard at the meta level, or at the file system level, that everyone else can get along with. And that's the inflexion point at which those hugely expensive EMC boxes suddenly become apparent for what they are - piles of hard disks you could get cheaper and quicker from the likes of Dell.

And this tantalising prospect has been exercising both open source idealists and hard-boiled disk vendors ever since DEC clustered two disks together, and sent you the invoice. The open source folk are thinking cluster file systems, and the disk vendors are thinking smarter, object based devices. There's an obvious tie-up here, but they've never gone so far as to tie the knot. Maybe, until now that is.

We'll report back later today on how extensive the support for a Jiro-centric SAN is with these folk, and how much traction Jiro - with its reviled community process license - appears to be getting. But the SAN war isn't over - it hasn't even begun. ®

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