Sun refocuses on storage

By Heidi Biggar

Long criticized for its lack of a storage vision, Sun Microsystems last month made a series of product announcements that some analysts say is evidence of the company's renewed focus on storage.

"Sun knows it hasn't been a force in the storage market," says John Webster, a senior analyst and IT advisor at Illuminata, a Nashua, NH-based market research and consulting firm. "And they're now trying to change that thinking. With this announcement, Sun shows it finally gets it."

According to a recent Yankee Group report, Sun's share of total SAN-attached storage system revenue last year was just 11% (compared to EMC's 34%, Compaq's 21%, and IBM's 16%), and it failed to get on the board with network-attached storage (see figure).

While the introduction of a new shared file system and a suite of software and midrange hardware products may not have wowed the industry, the announcements shed a different light on Sun's commitment to its network storage division.

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Of the various announcements, perhaps the most significant was the unveiling of next-generation file systems-in particular, StorEdge QFS, which enables file sharing in SANs. "This is the real jewel in the announcements," says Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm, in Milford, MA, who was otherwise unimpressed with Sun's announcements.

"It's significant because Sun, with a significant share of the Unix market, can actively promote the new file system," adds Illuminata's Webster. "They did it with NFS, and they can do it with QFS and SAM-FS."

The QFS software scales to 252TB and can implement fast restores without the overhead of traditional journaling file systems, claims Kathleen Holmgren, senior vice president of network storage solutions at Sun. The software is particularly suited for large, parallel access environments and has been optimized for Sun's T3 disk arrays. QFS currently runs on Solaris only but reportedly supports open storage APIs (e.g., Tivoli SANergy), which will allow heterogeneous clients to share data from the file system.

SAM-FS, meanwhile, is a high-performance volume manager with integrated storage and archive management capabilities. It is optimized for Solaris environments.

Also on the software front, Sun debuted its new storage architecture-Storage ONE-and four new software suites: StorEdge Availability, StorEdge Resource Management (leveraging technology acquired through its acquisition of HighGround), StorEdge Performance, and StorEdge Utilization. Like the file systems, these suites are currently optimized for Solaris environments.

Sun also announced two new StorEdge disk arrays-the 3900 and 6900 series-and enhancements to its existing 9900 family (based on Hitachi's 9960). The 3900 is a high-availability, 1.6GBps disk array that Sun has tailored for specification application environments such as high-performance computing and clustering. The 6900, a midrange array with virtualization (based on technology from Vicom) and load-balancing capabilities, is suited for transaction-intensive applications. Enhancements to the 9900 include support for its new StorEdge L6000 tape library and director-class switches from Brocade, McData, and Inrange.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2002