Sun's storage management platform bows

Sun recently took the wraps off its newest storage management platform, which promises a "fundamental change" in the way customers deploy and manage storage. From where I sit, this is worth checking into for any Sun shop of significant size or computing infrastructure.

The reason? Not just because of the storage management features, though those seem promising. More important than only storage, though, this new feature set - which Sun calls the Data Platform - is part of the firm's N1 initiative, which promises to help simplify the management of servers, storage, networking and software - pretty much everything in a data center. It's about using virtualization, grid computing and a bunch of other technologies to hide complexity. Just like turning the key in your car's ignition actually causes a whole series of events to occur and your car to start - hopefully - without you having to get out and crank the starter and so forth, so too will N1 provide a simple interface that hides a bunch of complexity underneath.

In Sun's view, the three phases of N1 are virtualization, services provisioning and then policy automation. The company is currently in the virtualization phase, with products that address the need to aggregate individual systems into a pool of resources. (So far Sun has introduced virtualization products for servers and, now, storage.) In the next phase, services provisioning, administrators will specify the business definition for a service - such as e-banking - and N1 will provision the resources required for this service. In the final phase, policy automation, application levels are automatically maintained by N1. Policies are used to manage applications and their required resources.

Because, truth be told, if all you want is storage virtualization, you can already buy any number of virtualization packages - and good ones, too - from several dozen independent vendors. The only reason to go with Sun (or IBM or HP or any other major computing vendor) is because they will, eventually, tie it all together.

The key word here is "eventually." The end-game - consisting of systems that can manage and heal themselves, with a minimum of human intervention - is at least a decade away, to be sure, but it is coming. And products like Data Platform will help this vision come to fruition. (IBM, HP and to some extent Microsoft also have grand initiatives along these lines. If you've got major computing investments with any of these vendors, you might want to find out what they're up to.)

Now onto the specifics about Sun's Data Platform: it comes in either 16-port or 32-port configurations and includes a Sun StorEdge T2 array with features including partitioning, striping and point-in-time copy capability. It allows pooling of T3 arrays for centralized management of all storage. Customers can create, expand and reassign virtual storage volumes online without having to physically reconfigure storage arrays.

If this sounds familiar to former Pirus Networks customers, it should. It's based on the Pirus acquisition that Sun made back in September 2002.

General availability is slated for later this year. Automated policy-based storage provisioning will be added over the next couple of years. And Sun will tie this Data Platform into the Terraspring software it also acquired last year. From one console, customers will be able to manage and provision both servers and storage. All told, this promises a lot of benefit for customers. The only technology hole I see so far is the lack of support for non-Sun platforms (Windows and Linux, at a minimum). From a strategy viewpoint, the only major downside I see from a customer's perspective is one of vendor lock-in.

As a very smart consultant told me a long time ago, the industry is moving from a scenario of hardware lock-in to one of software lock-in. Back in the old days, once you went with a specific computing vendor, it was very difficult to change because the hardware prevented you from running anything but the vendor's proprietary environment. So any change pretty much meant a complete swap of all of your computing infrastructure.

Now, although the hardware itself is mostly standards-based, the software is mostly anything but. And once you invest in systems- and storage-management software, it's pretty much impossible from a financial perspective to justify a wholesale change-out based "simply" on vendor dissatisfaction.

It's something to think about before putting all your eggs in one basket, as convenient as that might be. (And just to be clear, I'm not aiming this at Sun – I've heard pretty good things about their support over the years. It's just a general philosophical statement and something for a shop to consider.) While you're deciding, you can always try a trick an old IT-er once told me: every time his IBM sales rep came to visit, he made sure his Hitachi coffee mug was displayed prominently on his desk.

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