Sun peeks through clouds with new storage
Sun Microsystems Inc' storage business had a good day yesterday - the first in three to four years of what have been abysmal times for the division,Tim Stammers writes
The company announced new models for its flagship T3 storage arrays that at last match the competition in terms of basic functionality. It also stepped up a software offensive that could end up jeopardizing its relationship with long-time partner Veritas Software Corp.
Although the announcements go some way to digging Sun out of the storage hole it is in, they were not as far-reaching as some had expected. The company said it has no plans yet to offer across-the-arrays virtualization.
Under new management that was drafted into the storage networking division last year, Sun delivered a package aimed at reviving its sickly RAID sales.
By Gartner Dataquest's latest public estimates, the company had zero share of RAID revenues in 2000 for any operating system other than Windows NT/2000, and its own Solaris. For Windows it registered just 0.5% of worldwide revenues, and even on its home Solaris turf it scored less than EMC Corp - 31% compared to 43%. Sun also yesterday announced a channel certification program that it promised will "increase Sun server to Sun storage attach rates by more than 30 percent."
Until yesterday, Sun's T3 storage arrays were so un-appealing to buyers that last year it was forced to begin selling rebadged Hitachi Data Systems' Lightning devices as an alternative. The new hardware fixes some major problems. Using virtualization technology from Vicom Systems Inc, one of the new T3 variants no longer suffers the two-LUN limit that afflicts its predecessors. The choked-up connectivity of the T3 has also been addressed with support for multiple host attachments, and both the new devices launched yesterday can be attached to switched SAN fabrics - something that couldn't be done with previous T3s.
"Until now, you could go into a high-street electronics shop and buy any RAID system, and it would have more functionality than the T3," said Arun Taneja, analyst at the Storage Enterprise Group. "This is a Sun storage strategy that for the first time for some while I feel good about," he said.
The devices announced by Sun yesterday are the T3 3900, and the T3 6900 series, both aimed at the midmarket, and priced at around 5 cents per Megabyte or less.
The 6900 is the smaller of the two devices with a capacity of up to 10.5TB, and the only one to incorporate redeeming virtualization technology, in the form of an integrated router from Vicom Systems Inc. That device allows up to a more than adequate 512 volumes to be defined on the 3900. Other T3s - and even the new 3900 - will continue to be crippled with a two-LUN limit. Sun also stressed the virtualization features which the Vicom technology brings, allowing data to be pooled and dynamically re-arranged across multiple disks.
The maximum number of host ports fitted to the 6900 has been lifted to 14.
Previous T3s - usually sold in pairs - have had just one host port. That apparently was Sun being avant-garde, not simply out of touch. "We've been trying to deliver for an edge-connected computing environment, and realized we were ahead of our time," said Jim Hebert, general manager of Sun's storage systems division. "But customers who needed IOPs [I/Os per second] were going for monolithic devices instead," he added.
The 3900 is designed for throughput intensive applications and Sun claims it has four times the bandwidth of a competing Thunder array from EMC Corp.
It has up to 11.8TB capacity on 73GB disks, and 14 host ports. There may be some question about the architecture and manageability of the 3900, as Sun admitted that it needs 16 controllers when fully loaded. The company claimed however that that number - which compares to say just four for a much larger Symmetrix array from EMC - will not compromise manageability.
The front end of both the 6900 and the 3900 will connect to a Fibre Channel fabric - an essential ability allowing them to be used in switched SANs.
Previous T3s will be updated with this ability "soon," Hebert said. He denied that Sun has plans to license Vicom's technology as an in-band virtualization appliance. "We haven't had customers telling us "We'd like to buy some of that virtualization technology please.""
No new software was launched by Sun yesterday, but the company has repackaged its utilities into suites, and the file systems which it acquired when it bought LSC Inc early last year. The repackaging is also associated with a per-MB "managed" pricing scheme. During its launch presentation, Sun devoted some time to the virtues of its LSC-derived QFS and SAM-FS file systems, and said British Petroleum is using this technology for a file holding 8TB of data, and said that the products can hold up to 252TB.
Taneja predicted that Sun will eventually give this technology away for free with its storage boxes. "What would you do if you were so far behind, and wanted to get back control of your customer accounts?" he asked. If Sun does this, "it will mess up Veritas," he pointed out. Veritas Software Corp currently has a huge share of the file system market for Solaris installations.
A spokesman for Veritas said: "We've known for a while that Sun intends to introduce a product at the high-end, for what we see as a very narrow range of application. That doesn't change our relationship. The impact will be virtually zero."
The new management at Sun's storage business includes executive vice presidentMark Canepas, moved over from Sun's server business early last year, John Maxwell, recruited from Veritas in the second half of last year, and Balint Fleischer, chief technologist appointed from within Sun last November.
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