Sun gets serious about storage

Determined to establish itself as a premier storage provider for the enterprise, Sun Microsystems this week simplified its storage software offering and rolled out improved storage hardware sharpened by technology licensed from Vicom Systems.

Positioning itself squarely in opposition to Sun's effort, storage software company Veritas Software Corp. this week announced new Sun-compatible ServPoint Appliance Software that Veritas officials claim does everything Sun's storage software can do, only better.

Experts such as Arun Taneja, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass., said that repeated assaults, such as 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.

"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 [share]."

On the software side, Sun repackaged its 70-plus storage software products into four simplified suites, said Mark Canepa, executive vice president of storage products at Sun, in Burlington, Massachusetts.

"Customers need more focused solutions," said Canepa of the software bundling.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun will now offer four storage software suites, a resource management suite, a utilization suite, a performance suite, and an availability suite, Canepa said.

Two new families of storage subsystems were also introduced by Sun -- Sun StorEdge 3900 series and Sun StorEdge 6900 series, he said.

Designed for high-performance storage environments, the 3900 series is a Fibre Channel product with two direct-attach connections that support up to 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. 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 and as many as 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 reassigning 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.

"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," Enterprise Storage's Taneja said. "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, and Hewlett-Packard.

Veritas this week added to its storage software arsenal new Veritas ServPoint Appliance Software that it will roll out during the next two months. ServPoint software products for both NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area network) will allow users to assign appliance-like storage serving tasks and storage capacity to mixed-vendor devices within their choice of storage network, said Roland Schmidt, with Veritas' appliance software division. The Veritas software also works with Sun's T-3.

"We're a superset function of the subset 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 for the same will arrive within a few months.

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.

Sun officials are confident 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 1,000 company and, for the Unix world, give the best storage solution of anybody," Canepa said.

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