Sun Microsystems will introduce a storage appliance based on its FISHworks software package by the end of this year and later extend the technology to other types of products through partnerships.
FISHworks is a set of software components for building specialized appliances on industry-standard x86 hardware. Though it runs best on Sun equipment and the company's OpenSolaris open-source operating system, the software theoretically could work on other platforms, according to Sun.
The idea behind FISHworks is to offer the all-in-one simplicity of an appliance, fully tested and configured, with open-source software and commodity hardware. FISHworks stands for Fully Integrated Software and Hardware, but will get a new name when it is commercially released, said Mike Shapiro, a distinguished engineer in Sun's FISHworks group.
The platform was announced in February 2007 and had been expected earlier this year, but Sun said it has been fine-tuning it so it's a fully baked product when it hits the market. The company joins a growing list of big vendors working on virtual appliance platforms, including IBM, VMware, Red Hat and Novell, according to IDC analyst Brett Waldman. Unlike conventional appliances, virtual ones aren't tied to a particular hardware system.
Sun is using FISHworks in a reinvention of its storage products around its own intellectual property, after selling storage products it brought on through acquisitions for several years, Shapiro said. The high-performance NAS (network-attached storage) appliances coming later this year will be designed for large enterprises. FISHworks will use Sun's ZFS (Zettabyte File System) storage software, which has distinctive Sun features including an analytics tool that uses the company's DTrace (Dynamic Tracing) technology.
The DTrace-based tool is more powerful than any other such tool in the industry for telling IT managers what is working or not, according to Sun. For example, it can drill down to tell an administrator which protocol is consuming the most resources on a storage network, which clients are using that protocol the most and which files they are working with, and more, Shapiro said. This would help IT managers troubleshoot problems such as boot-up times for virtual servers that get longer over time, he said.
Some time after rolling out the NAS appliances, Sun will offer the software components as an "appliance kit" for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build their own products. As an example, Sun pointed to Dell, which today licenses Windows 2003 for some of its storage gear. Using OpenSolaris would save that licensing cost, according to Sun. In addition, enterprises could use software components to build their own systems if they chose.
In storage, Sun is going after a fast-growing industry that is fairly new territory for the company. Enterprises are looking for a simple finished solution, so coming out with storage appliances based on this platform is probably a good move, said Andrew Reichman, an analyst with Forrester Research. So far, Sun's storage lineup has been a mishmash, he said.
"While Sun does have interesting and valuable pieces ... they have not put it together to be a very compelling offer," Reichman said.
Even with the appliances, it will be hard for the company to catch up to big names such as EMC and NetApp, he added.
"Storage is a (market) where you've got to have experience and expertise and develop a relationship over time," Reichman said. "People buy storage for reputation and solidity ... much more than they do for a low-cost solution."
A vendor such as Dell, which lacks a strong enterprise-class NAS product, might find FISHworks a worthwhile option, said Taneja Group analyst Arun Taneja. It will all come down to dollars and cents, he said -- information that's not yet available.