Sun makes bid to regain RAID market share

Deal with HDS aimed squarely at EMC


The recent multi-faceted pact between Sun Microsystems and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) aims to shore up problems in Sun's high-end storage strategy and gives HDS new distribution opportunities. Sun claims that end users will have more storage choices and that customers with pre-existing Sun Solaris contracts can benefit from the joint support and service that the deal offers.

Announced last month, the agreement allows Sun to resell Hitachi's Freedom Storage Lightning 9900 disk array, which will be re-labeled as the Sun StorEdge 9900 series and offered with Sun-specific services. Also, Sun and Hitachi will cross-license software, collaborate on software development, and jointly support the StorEdge 9900.

According to Ed Zander, president and COO of Sun, "The agreement will allow each company to service new customers, complement and expand existing product lines, share co-developed technologies, ensure new levels of product interoperability, leverage each other's R&D investments, serve customers more comprehensively, and ensure more product quality."

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Analysts tout the deal as a win-win proposition for both companies, with end users ultimately benefiting. "Solaris users now have Sun-supported, data-center quality arrays that compete effectively as an alternative to EMC's Symmetrix," says John Webster, senior analyst at Illuminata, a consulting firm in Nashua, NH. StorEdge 9900 will be supported for storage area networks (SANs) and direct attachment to Sun's E10000 servers, and it will be certified with Solaris and Sun Cluster 3.0.

"We struck this deal with Hitachi so that it's favorable for customers who already have a Sun support contract for either servers or servers and storage. It's in their best interest to get the Sun version of this product," says James Staten, director of strategy for Sun.

But analysts say that the deal is also designed to attack disk array market leader EMC. Sun's T3 RAID array, which analysts claim was Sun's shot at the high-end market when it was announced in June 2000, didn't fare as well as expected. Now wielding Hitachi's 9900 in the high-end space, Sun expects to reclaim its Solaris customer base from EMC.

"The T3 was positioned by Sun as its EMC killer," says Richard Lee, president of consulting firm Data Storage Technologies. "But it didn't work."

However, Sun claims the T3 was not initially positioned as a direct competitor to EMC's high-end Symmetrix arrays. According to Sun's Staten, the T3 was always positioned as a midrange-to-enterprise product.

"No matter how they spin it, Sun had a product strategy problem. And they had a market-erosion problem," says Lee. "Hitachi Data Systems had a product that should have been selling at higher volumes, and the job wasn't getting done. [The Sun deal] is a vehicle to help get it done."

But EMC is not about to yield market share. "We're constantly looking in our rear-view mirror to make sure nobody's catching up," says Don Swatik, EMC's vice president of global alliances. "What we've been doing all along is the right thing for Sun's customers. And we're going to continue to do it."

However, Sun's Staten is confident that Sun can gain market share, especially with the added value of the joint Hitachi-Sun software on top of the 9900 array and Sun-Hitachi one-call support centers. Sun will add its storage resource management (SRM) software (acquired from High Ground Systems) to the 9900, which is not currently available on the Hitachi Lightning 9900. Sun will also leverage Hitachi's software such as ShadowImage, CruiseControl, and TrueCopy as part of the agreement. In addition, Hitachi and Sun will collaborate to provide interoperability between Sun's HSM software and soon-to-be-announced storage management software from Hitachi. Sun will provide the management interface to the Hitachi products, according to Phil Townsend, senior director of worldwide marketing at HDS.

Although HDS is collaborating with Sun on the 9900 software, it will still work with other vendors. "HDS has an open storage philosophy and in the same ways that we are working with Sun, we will work with vendors like Veritas, Oracle, and others to bring together a robust infrastructure," says Townsend.

Overall, the Hitachi 9900 was a good fit for Sun because it is designed internally as a SAN type of architecture, says Staten. For example, he claims, scalability can be achieved independently or through cache, the switched backbone allows for large capacities, and the 9900 allows customers to configure and re-configure the array as necessary.

At press time, the Sun StorEdge 9900 was available but without the promised HighGround SRM software, which was still in the final testing stage.

The StorEdge 9900 is available in two versions: The 9910 starts at 500GB ($800,000) and scales to 14TB, while the 9960 scales to 37TB and is priced from $1 million. Both products include identical support and software. Sun is offering an upgrade to the Sun-Hitachi support contract if existing Sun customers already have the Hitachi Lightning 9900.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2001