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Oracle stares into Sun for storage future

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Comment Oracle becoming a storage supplier through buying Sun - who would have thought it and what does it mean for Sun's storage products?

There's long been a contradiction in Sun's storage array strategy. How can it push the open storage idea and simultaneously sell storage arrays with what amounts to proprietary controller hardware and software? If Sun carried through on its open storage vision, then in the long term, the arrays it OEM's from Hitachi Data Systems and others would be toast.

With Oracle buying Sun the Ellison-run enterprise's stated storage idea is to focus on open storage and systems. Oracle has long had a very successful strategy of commoditising everything in the hardware-to-operating system stack underneath its own software products, so that it could charge high margins for its software, but also put forward a low-cost total Oracle DBMS and app system, compared to other DBMS vendors with proprietary and/or higher-priced hardware. Think Big Blue and HP.

Now Oracle has its hands on a whole swathe of storage HW and SW, much of which is in a mess due to the contradiction between Sun's give-it-away-free open source SW strategy and its proprietary HW running proprietary software.

General server, storage and software supplier or not?

So far, Oracle has sold things that integrate and support its database and application SW crown jewels. With Sun it is now in the general server, storage and software businesses. Does it want to be? Will it continue to be? We don't know. Apart from general intentions of investing in Sun and growing its revenues, all we know is what the announcement singles out, such as a focus on Open Storage.

Let's assume Oracle is not in the general server/storage/SW supply business. Then we might assume that, as a working principle, Oracle will look at the Sun storage collection and focus on anything that can further its commoditise-everything-below-the-Oracle-SW-layer strategy. If other Sun products are in secure niche markets, don't cannibalise existing Oracle products, and represent an upsell opportunity for Oracle, then they should survive. Everything else, unless it can be adopted for use as a competition stopper that doesn't harm Oracle's own product revenues, will be toast.

So ... Sun's Open Storage 7000 product with a freely available Solaris + DTrace + ZFS + lots more SW stack should survive, and be embraced avidly by Oracle. The run of the mill Sun storage arrays, from the OEM'd HDS USP-V downwards, face strategic oblivion.

The mainframe StorageTek tape libraries represent a relatively secure mainframe niche with recurring revenues, a good customer base, and upsell opportunities. Expect this to continue. Ditto the mid-term future of StorageTek's proprietary tape format, but its longer term future depends on the combined Oracle/Sun organisation's view of the trend to more and more disk-based protection.

The hybrid storage/server products, like the X4500 Thumper, are being used by Sun to sell against Oracle data warehousing and business intelligence products. They could be bundled with Oracle's own products and survive, but the partner support for currently competing software, such as GreenPlumb, could be scaled down.

The Sun virtual tape library strategy may well continue, with a combined mainframe and open server VTL product being developed, as Sun is trying to do at the moment.

The MySQL database represents Oracle DMBS competition, but if Oracle could position it as a low-end stopper supporting its own database and not cannibalising its sales, then it could survive. Equally it might just be left to languish.

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