What Sun Microsystems lacks in size as a storage vendor it is trying to make up for with innovation, as it rolls out a series of appliances that include advanced management software and SSDs (solid-state drives).
The Sun Storage 7000 line of three systems, with capacities ranging from 2T bytes to 576T bytes, brings homegrown Sun technology to a storage business that has been built mostly through the acquisitions of StorageTek and other companies. The appliances run Sun's Open Solaris and ZFS (Zettabyte File System) on industry-standard x86 computing hardware and include monitoring and management software developed by Sun's FISHworks (Fully Integrated Software and Hardware) group. Sun claims the appliances offer higher performance, lower cost and a fraction of the installation time of competing systems.
Sun's storage business is one of the fastest-growing parts of the company but still makes up only a relatively small part of its operations. It's dwarfed by competitors such as EMC and Hewlett-Packard. Still, the fast-growing demand for storage capacity represents a healthy opportunity for Sun, which lost nearly US$1.7 billion in the quarter ended September 28 as its revenue fell more than 7 percent.
The Sun Storage 7000 line is designed to be easy to manage and to provide detailed information about the use of the storage. For example, the FISHworks software can show which users are accessing the device for which applications, and which files they are using, said Graham Lovell, senior director of open storage at Sun. IT managers can narrow down the causes of problems by comparing detailed activity information against statistics about typical activity, he said.
For high performance at low cost, Sun incorporated SSDs for caching data as it is written to or read from the appliances' disk arrays. This "hybrid storage pool" is a tiered system that uses both solid-state and disk-based capacity to balance cost and performance, according to Sun.
On the writing side, the SSDs replace NVRAM (non-volatile random access memory), which is slightly faster but significantly more expensive than SSDs. On the reading side, as data is pulled off disks for sending out and across the network, the SSDs complement DRAM (dynamic RAM), Lovell said. Unlike either form of RAM, SSDs can be economically deployed at huge capacities. For example, on the writing side, the largest Sun Storage 7000 appliance can be equipped with 16 SSDs, each with 18G bytes of capacity, he said.
The speed and high capacity of the SSDs allow enterprises to use slower, less-expensive hard disks in the storage arrays themselves, Lovell said.