Sun Takes Another Dive into the Storage Space


Unix server king Sun Microsystems has seen the light.

In what can be viewed as an acknowledgement that storage is more than a feature of the server, Sun has redesigned its StorEdge T3 disk array and wrapped it in a handful of software management features that include virtualization and long-distance replication.

Sun executives say the new StorEdge 3900 and 6900 series have internalized switching capabilities to more easily replicate what customers and resellers have been doing with the T3 model: connecting multiple units with external switches in an effort to boost capacity.

"We replicated what [customers were doing in piecemeal before," says James Staten, director of strategy at Sun Microsystems.

Sun also has rolled out software management architecture called StorageONE (Open Networking Environment) that helps IT administrators manage multiple pieces of software from competing vendors on a single console. In addition, Sun has revised its IForce partnership program to deliver these new products (Sun Makes Most of Hardware, Software Launches With New iForce Program).

The StorEdge 6900 comes in two models--the 6910 and 6960--each containing multiple T3 controllers and integrated switches, so that capacity can scale to 11 Tbytes. Likewise, the 3910 can scale to 6 Tbytes while the 3960 grows to 11 Tbytes.

It was June 2000 when Sun made one it first major pushes into the storage market with the introduction of the StorEdge T3 subsystem. Back then, Sun executives were touting the T3 as a high-end system that could scale up to 88 Tbytes or 88 billion Mbytes.

But resellers did not find the T3 to be a competitive product in the high-end space and the subsystem was given a lower billing as a mid-range storage device. Mark Canepa, Sun's executive vice president of storage products, this summer admitted the T3 did "not scale into the heart of the data center."

Customers were asking Sun to provide a storage product that mapped well with the features of its E10000. So last summer, Sun signed a reseller deal with Hitachi Data Systems to sell the Lightening 9900. Sun has renamed that system the StorEdge 9900.

And now it is announcing its new midrange storage product, designed to compete with EMC's Clariion subsystem. Besides capacity, some of the key differences between the models is that the 3900 is aimed at applications that need fast performance such as high data intensive applications and high performance computing. The 6900 series, with its integrated virtualization engine, is targeted at I/O intensive applications and for storage consolidation from multiple severs. Both the 6900 and 3900 use about 20 controllers to scale to 11 Tbytes.

In comparison, EMC's Clariion uses two controllers in one unit to scale up to 8.7 Tbytes.

"Sun has clearly demonstrated they do not have the expertise in storage," says Ken Steinhardt, EMC's director of technology analysis.

Along with the hardware, Sun is introducing its new StorageONE architecture designed to deliver better data access, data continuance for backup, mirroring and replication, as well as storage resource management. StorageONE is comprised of four suites, each offering specific management functions: availability, SRM, utilization and performance.

The availability suite does synchronous and asynchronous snapshots of data along with synchronous and asynchronous replication. The StorEdge SRM suite, which uses technology Sun gained from its $400 million acquisition of HighGround Systems, gives a view of how fast your company is consuming capacity and which department is consuming storage at what rate, as well as helps determine what kind of performance you are getting out of your system.

The utilization suite intelligently looks at files and, based on age and size and relevance, migrates the information to different storage media, whether it is tape or disk or optical media. Finally, the performance suite offers a high-performance file system and tuning tools. It has a special file system designed for speed and true file sharing, say Sun executives.

Using technology acquired from its $74 million merger with LSC in December 2000, Sun is announcing Version 4.0 of its Quick File System, which allows numerous servers access to the same file system. This enables companies such as manufacturers to aggregate all documents into one file system.

The StorageOne software architecture delivers a single view to manage hardware from vendors like Compaq Computer, EMC, IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Sun executives say it was not necessary to get all the APIs from its competitors.

"Some of it we got from reverse engineering, some of it was from sniffing from what is available on a Fibre Channel connection and some we worked with the companies directly," says Staten.