Sun targets data centers, challenges EMC, IBM
By Zachary Shess
Aiming to double its storage business by 2001, Sun Microsystems recently introduced its Intelligent Storage Network (ISN) architecture and StorEdge product line.
ISN is a "network-centric" architecture based on a multiprocessor design and DataShare software technology obtained through Sun`s acquisition of Encore Computer last fall. The software enables direct sharing of information among mainframes, Unix, and Windows NT servers. Information sharing is designed to help ease logistical problems associated with creating multiple copies of data in separate processing environments. Operating costs may also be lower because information sharing reduces processing cycles, which simplifies infrastructure management. Analysts agree that DataShare will be key to Sun`s attempt to gain market share in the multi-platform enterprise storage market.
Originally known as Encore`s SP40, Sun`s A7000 Intelligent Storage Server is the first StorEdge product to incorporate the ISN architecture. Designed for the data center, the A7000 includes two quad-processor Unix SMP nodes and has mainframe backup and restore capabilities. Currently, the A7000 supports up to 32 SCSI, Block Mux, and/or ESCON host connections as well as RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 configurations. Support for Fibre Channel is due later this year. Capacity starts at 217GB and scales up to 2.9TB, with 1GB to 4GB of mirrored, nonvolatile cache. Pricing starts at $286,000; a fully configured system is almost $2 million.
While acknowledging that Sun now has a viable entry into the data center, industry analysts are taking a wait-and-see approach to the impact of Sun`s technical prowess and to the company`s ability to penetrate a market dominated by vendors such as EMC and IBM.
Anders Lofgren, an analyst with Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, MA, says it is also too early to speculate whether ISN has any clear advantage over competing architectures. "It will be interesting to see how well Sun has ported the data sharing technology to Solaris and across their other product lines," Lofgren adds.
"In the short term, StorEdge provides Sun with another offering to go into the data center and sell an alternative solution to EMC," says Sean Derrington, an analyst with the Meta Group consulting firm in Stamford, CT. "More importantly, in the long term it will improve their overall strategy of enhancing information movement from the mainframe down to Unix and NT."
Sun appointed Jeffrey E. Allen, a former EMC vice president of channel marketing and sales support, head of its business operations and marketing for its storage product group. Allen, and new executive Tim Holland (brought in from StorageTek), will lead the storage group`s newly formed dedicated sales force. Sun is also planning to centralize and expand its storage headquarters in Newark, CA. New services include storage consulting, support and account management, and educational courses. Business continuity planning services will also be offered through a new alliance with Comdisco.
Sun isn`t the only storage vendor hoping to increase market share in the high-end data center storage arena. Digital Equipment and MTI Technology recently teamed up with Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) to gain mainframe storage technology. Officials from Digital and MTI describe the HDS deals as "joint technology and marketing agreements."
Digital and MTI are expected to integrate HDS 6700 arrays for open systems, 7700 arrays for mainframes, and 7700MP arrays for open systems and mainframes into their StorageWorks and Gladiator lines, respectively.