EMC, Sun make nice with Solaris support

Sun Microsystems and EMC, sometime bitter rivals in the storage arena, are collaborating to make life simpler for customers running EMC software on Sun's Solaris 10 operating system, executives from the two companies confirmed last Friday.

"In terms of Sun/EMC customers, it's probably the Fortune 100 and then some," Souheil Saliba, Sun's vice president of strategic alliances, said. "Any household name you can think of will have EMC and Sun." Paul Brown, EMC senior director of global alliances, agreed, adding, "The number of joint customers is in the thousands. Looking at the installed base for Legato NetWorker alone, it's over 7,000 [customers]."

"It's a very pragmatic partnership agreement that probably bodes well for Sun," said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research of Hayward, California. "The company is acting more like a grown-up than it sometimes has."

Under the terms of the agreement announced Thursday, EMC and Sun have agreed to ensure compatibility between EMC's networked storage products and Solaris 10 running on both Sun Sparc and Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD's) Opteron x64-based systems. EMC is also planning to add support for Solaris to its PowerPath and Legato NetWorker software, and also to unspecified Legato products and software from its Documentum and Smarts families. EMC's Brown estimated that Solaris 10-enabled versions of EMC software should begin appearing around the fourth quarter of this year, with some releases spilling over into the first quarter of 2006.

"From Sun's side, it's really critical to have EMC support for Sparc and AMD," said Saliba. Since Sun launched Solaris 10 in November of last year, there have been more than 1.5 million downloads of the operating system, he estimated. Over 60 percent of the Solaris 10 downloads were on x86-based machines and 40 percent on Sparc, Saliba added.

EMC's Brown, doesn't believe his company is behind the curve in supporting Solaris 10. "What we've been doing with Sun is appropriately paced with how our customers are moving to Solaris 10 and going into mission-critical environment," he said.

Sun and EMC have extended an existing agreement for Sun to sell the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) version of EMC's Legato NetWorker as its backup and recovery software repackaged as Sun StorEdge Enterprise Backup Software.

Sun had a long-standing relationship with Legato Systems, which was acquired by EMC in 2003, together with relationships with Documentum and Smarts, both purchased by EMC in 2004. Sun made a significant move further into the storage business at the beginning of this month when it announced its intentions to acquire Storage Technology (StorageTek) for US$4.1 billion.

Prior to August 2001, Sun and EMC also had a very close relationship, according to analyst King. Back then, Sun decided it wanted to be a player in the storage market and signed an exclusive OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deal with Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).

"Sometimes, it looks smart to go with one company over another," King said. "In 2001, HDS had had several quarters of solid growth and its products offered significant performance benefits. But over time, EMC has grown strongly and is in the leadership position or close to the leadership position in every piece of the enterprise storage market."

So, is Sun trying to make good on taking the wrong bet back in 2001? "I don't want to read too much" into Sun rekindling its relationship with EMC, King said. "Sun's alliance with HDS made sense in 2001, and the move with EMC today makes just as much sense."

EMC and Sun said that they are also beginning to talk about further collaboration in other areas, notably in relation to Sun's Sun Cluster software. Sun's Saliba explained that the companies already have an engineering relationship centered around Sun Cluster and EMC's PowerPath, but that they hope to get even closer cooperation in the future.

The pair are also offering customers a one-call support system so that EMC/Sun customers experiencing problems will only need to put in a single call to one of the companies, not calls to both. Neither company thinks it will have to increase staff to support the system, but they will need to do more cross training of their respective support staff on each other's products, according to the executives.

Despite all of the friendly behavior, EMC and Sun pointed out that they remain fierce rivals in the storage hardware business. "There's no change in our or EMC's posture," Saliba said. "We continue to compete on storage systems," keeping what may be termed a "firewall" between their storage hardware efforts and their partnership work, he added.

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