Sun, which traditionally has been the least successful of the IT industry's major system players to attach storage sales to its server sales, feels that storage vendors have followed a proprietary model for too long, said Graham Lovell, senior director of open storage and networking for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor.
"Storage is very closed today," Lovell said. "We want to differentiate with a paradigm that is much more open going forward."
For Sun, that means taking advantage of its commitment to open source, including its OpenSolaris and its ZFS storage operating system, Lovell said.
By working with open source technology, solution providers are better able to help customers quickly take advantage of new technologies such as flash disk drives, Lovell said.
Flash disks, or solid-state drives, are storage devices which use non-volatile memory chips instead of spinning disks to store data, giving them a much higher performance than traditional hard drives but at a much higher purchase price.
Companies such as EMC,, of Hopkinton, Mass., have started introducing the idea of using flash disks either as primary storage for certain high-speed applications, or as cache to accelerate storage array performance, Lovell said. "Customers want performance and scalability," he said. "Flash will play a part."
However, the idea that flash drives should be built so that they can plug into a standard hard drive bay and replace one hard drive does not take advantage of the new technology, Lovell said.
First of all, flash disks can offer higher density when used in hardware chassis built specifically for the technology, which means the storage industry will start building arrays specifically for flash disks in the near future, he said.
Also, the storage industry's standard interfaces are heavily oriented toward spinning disks, which can drag down flash disk performance, he said.
"In 2009, users will see that flash has an alternate role to play, not just for replacing spinning disks," he said. "So there will be new storage protocols. You can't just put flash disks in to do what DRAM does. It's a different technology. And accessing flash disks through the SCSI command set doesn't make sense because of their performance."
Sun plans to take advantage of its open source legacy to make flash disk an option in its storage arrays by building in technology to take advantage of the benefits of flash disks rather than using them as replacements for spinning disks, Lovell said.
The vendor also plans to start selling more disk arrays without storage capacity and let customers and their solution providers handle the populating of the arrays with whatever drives they prefer, he said. Current storage arrays typically require that storage capacity be acquired from the vendor who sold the arrays.
"In the past, disk drive trays have been sold half-full," he said. "Sun in the future will sell more empty trays, and be more open about what storage devices customers use. We already do this. But as the market moves towards more open storage, customers will be able to do more."
Lovell admitted that opening storage arrays to customers' choice of disk drive could impact Sun's sales of hard drives, he said that it is not necessarily the case. "There's synergy in buying components from one manufacturer," he said. "If there's a problem, customers know who to call to handle it."