Sun to Acquire SRM Vendor

Posted on January 02, 2001

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By Heidi Biggar

In a stock-for-stock swap valued at $400 million, Sun later this quarter is expected to finalize its acquisition of storage resource management (SRM) software vendor HighGround Systems. The deal, which has been widely applauded by analysts, lends credibility to Sun's open-storage initiative and, by default, makes the company a leader in the fast-growing SRM market.

"The HighGround acquisition enables us to take a lead in the emerging storage resource management market, while extending our strategy to deliver easily managed, scalable storage networks," explains Kathy Holmgren, vice president of Sun's storage business operations. Previous steps included its StorEdge T3 disk array, Network Data Replicator software, and Instant Image software.

The increasingly contested SRM market is expected to hit $1.2 billion in 2002, up from $270 million in 1997, according to Gartner Group's Dataquest research group.

Adding to the SRM competition, EMC and Computer Associates last month announced that they have teamed up to develop SAN management and security tools. Up first: CA-Vantage, SRM software to facilitate the management of EMC Symmetrix arrays. About a year ago, Computer Associates bought Sterling Software, a manufacturer of SRM and hierarchical storage management (HSM) software, in a $4 billion stock transaction.

While the HighGround acquisition does not necessarily put Sun ahead of, for example, Compaq or EMC, it does even the playing field somewhat, according to industry analysts. "It gives an injection into Sun's storage products," explains Dave Richardson, director of strategic alliances at Articulent, a provider of storage management services in Hopkinton, MA. "They now have some new functionality ... that one-ups the other vendors in terms of management."

The acquisition also enables Sun to drive open standards beyond Jiro and to catalyze relationships with other vendors, most notably Compaq (see below).

Now in release 4.0, HighGround?s Storage Resource Manager facilitates the planning, design, and implementation of heterogeneous storage infrastructures, including storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS), by providing a consolidated view of storage networking resources. The software runs cross-platform (NT, Solaris and HP-UX) and supports a variety of applications and databases.

In September, HighGround announced extended management view of Brocade Fibre Channel switch-based SANs and Network Appliance NAS filers.

Storage Resource Manager's tool set includes alarms, threshold management, performance monitoring, application monitoring, and trend analysis. IT administrators can proactively forecast future storage requirements, consolidate servers, and determine file-system requirements - tasks that are becoming increasingly important in today's large-scale heterogeneous SAN/NAS environments and are not currently possibly with other network management frameworks such as CA Unicenter, HP OpenView, and Tivoli TME.

"IT administrators used to have to make an estimated guess about how much incremental storage they would need because they didn't have a rock-solid understanding of how much storage they actually had across their environments," says Articulent's Richardson.

According to an end-user poll at the recent Storage Networking World conference, storage forecasting is a common problem among IT administrators due to a lack of resources and staffing shortages (see "Users identify key storage issues," InfoStor, December 2000, p. 1).

Additionally, Storage Resource Manager allows IT administrators to buy what they need when they need it, rather than overbuying - and overspending - to get headroom, explains Richardson.

Sun says it plans to maintain HighGround's Marlborough, MA facility, and does not plan to lay off any of HighGround?s 170+ employees.

Strange bedfellows

While the proposed acquisition has met with applause from industry analysts, it has nonetheless raised a few eyebrows. At issue: How will Sun manage HighGround's existing business relationships with Microsoft and, more importantly, Compaq and Network Appliance, both of which are investors in HighGround.

In terms of Microsoft, it's a non-issue, according to Sun's Holmgren. She says that code developed by HighGround for Microsoft's RSM technology was done on a fee-for-hire basis, giving Microsoft full rights to that work and leaving a support agreement as the only ongoing tie between the two companies.

As for HighGround's relationship with Network Appliance, Sun says it will aggressively support it and relationships like it. "Our vision is to provide customers with the ability to manage data wherever it resides, whether it's on an EMC box, a NetApp box, or an IBM box," says Holmgren.

HighGround worked with NetApp to develop agents to enhance its device-management capabilities. By working cooperatively with NetApp, HighGround was able to provide the company with more management functionality than would have been possible had the work been done independent of NetApp, Holmgren explains.

Not so straightforward is HighGround's relationship with Compaq. In December 1999, Compaq invested $20 million in the software vendor, becoming a minority shareholder and securing a seat on HighGround's board of directors. The two companies also signed an OEM agreement and announced plans to jointly develop software.

While both Sun and Compaq say that HighGround's relationship with Compaq will act as a springboard for future discussions between the system giants, they stress that discussions have been in the works for some time. "We had preliminary conversations with Sun (prior to the acquisition)," says John Koury, vice president of marketing for Compaq's enterprise storage group. "But Sun buying HighGround will accelerate conversations between us around interoperability."

Compaq has publicly stated that it will work with Sun toward improved interoperability. The two vendors have not ruled out the possibility of joint engineering efforts - similar to those between Compaq and IBM - simply saying that any activities would likely center on software and could include other players, such as IBM.

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