Sun makes a stand as an enterprise vendor

Determined to establish itself as a premier storage provider for the enterprise, Sun Microsystems Inc. announced Wednesday that it has simplified its storage software offering and will roll out improved storage hardware sharpened by technology licensed from Vicom Systems Inc.

Ed Zander, president of Sun Microsystems, made clear in an address here that the company doesn't expect success in the storage industry over night. Pointing to the company's past focus on Solaris and then servers, he reminded the approximately 400 people assembled at the Palace Hotel that it will take a few years before the company becomes a storage leader.

"Engineering takes time," said Zander. "It took us four to five years to get leadership in the server market."

Mark Canepa, executive vice president of network storage at Sun, echoed the remarks of Zander and also hammered home Sun's message of a complete end-to-end system.

"Customers want to buy an IT infrastructure tuned to their applications," said Canepa. He added that storage is now an integrated part of the company's broader, open architecture.

On the software side, Sun is re-packaging its 70-plus storage software products into four simplified suites, Canepa said.

Sun will now offer four storage software suites: a Resource Management suite, a Utilization suite, a Performance suite, and an Availability suite, Canepa said.

Sun's broad-based storage initiative places it in position to better compete with storage giants EMC Corp., IBM Corp., and others, said industry analysts.

"Sun has come so far, so fast," said Robert Passmore, research director of general area storage for the research company Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "You could argue whether they have the best product line.

"But they now have an overall competitive product line," Passmore said. "They have finally started to tell a software story around SANs (storage area networks)."

The new software offerings address replication, resource management, storage utilization, and two new file systems designed to scale up to 252TB of data.

The Sun StorEdge QFS and SM-FS software suites allow sharing of files across a number of storage systems. John Maxwell, vice president of marketing at Sun, touted the software's ability to allow file sharing across two servers. More specifically, the software will allow up to four hosts or servers to write to the connected storage system.

Two new families of storage sub-systems are also being introduced by Sun, the Sun StorEdge 3900 series and 6900 series, according to Canepa.

Designed for high-performance storage environments, the 3900 series is a Fibre Channel product with two direct attach connections that support as much as 11TB of data. The 3900 series comes cluster-ready, and offers advanced management features such as phone-home capabilities in the event of a system failure. It supports Sun's Solaris operating environment as well as Microsoft NT, and support for other Unix flavors such as Linux will "follow shortly," Canepa said.

The 6900 series is designed for storage consolidation and offers 11TB of storage capacity as well as up to 512 LUNs (logical unit numbers) and 14 direct attach connections.

Both the 3900 and 6900 series are built upon the foundation of Sun's T-3 storage array and have integrated storage virtualization technology for allocating and re-assigning storage capacity throughout a Sun storage network. Storage capacity using existing T-3 arrays can be added virtually, using software, or by physically adding T-3s to the hardware devices.

"If customers have T-3s today they can take those T-3s and open up the door of the box, add another T-3, and augment [the new systems] with existing T-3s," Canepa said.

Software technology from storage virtualization company Vicom, in Fremont, Calif., was licensed by Sun to assist in virtualization as well as expanding previous LUN limitations of the T-3. The Vicom virtualization technology will control primarily Sun-only storage networks, according to Vicom.

"The T-3 has had serious limitations particularly when it came to the number of LUNs you could create from it. You could only get two LUNs out of it, for example," said analyst Arun Taneja, of the Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. "The virtualization piece that comes from Vicom essentially gives Sun the ability to create up to 512 LUNs on a T-3, so they are using the Vicom technology as a component to make the T-3 whole."

Veritas officials believe the Mountain View, Calif.-based storage software company is way ahead of Sun in offering storage software tools that can virtualize and control not only T-3s but also third-party systems from other vendors such as IBM, Compaq Computer Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Veritas Software Corp. next Monday will add to its storage software arsenal new Veritas ServPoint Appliance Software, which it will roll out over the course of the next two months. ServPoint software products for both NAS (network attached storage) and SANs (storage area networks) will let users assign appliance-like storage serving tasks and storage capacity to mixed vendor devices within their choice of storage network, said Roland Schmidt, senior director of products management for Veritas' appliance software division. The Veritas software also works with Sun's T-3.

"We're a super-set function of the sub-set function that [Sun] has solved for themselves," Schmidt said.

ServPoint NAS Appliance software for Sun's Solaris operating environment is already available from Veritas. Intel-based and Linux-based versions of the same will arrive within a few months. ServPoint SAN Appliance software is presently going into the beta testing stage, Schmidt said.

Sun works closely with Veritas and licenses many of Veritas' software tools, but for Sun, having a complete in-house storage software stack was vital to building its image as an enterprise storage player.

"Sun needed to present a complete solution from its own arsenal. So even if the Veritas technology, in conjunction with a T-3, solves that problem for Sun, it is not enough from Sun's perspective," Taneja said.

With its new storage software and hardware strategy, Sun officials are confident that the company is now on a level playing field with storage competitors such as IBM, Compaq, and EMC.

"I feel very confident that I could walk in to any Fortune 1000 company and, for the Unix world, give the best storage solution of anybody," Canepa said.

Repeated assaults, like that by Veritas, on Sun's potential storage market made the time ripe for Sun to make a stand and defend itself as an enterprise storage vendor, Taneja said.

"Sun is a very strong server player with a very weak storage offering. It has been the least desirable in the market place, which is why EMC, Veritas, and others have had a field day on it," Taneja said. "So Sun is doing the right thing by saying, 'Look, stop, I want my unfair share of the storage part of the business because up to now [Sun] has not been getting their fair shake."

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