VARBusiness Interview With Sun's Top Storage Exec

STORAGE Storage technology is experiencing a very typical evolution: those fancy features once found in high-end expensive systems are now migrating down to the mid-tier. That's why experts, such as research firm International Data Corp., are taking a hard look the maturing storage mid-market. In an interview with VARBusiness, Mark Canepa, Sun Microsystems' executive vice president of storage products, talks about this new trend and why storage is not just about selling a bunch of disk drives.

VARBusiness: The word on the street is that the storage mid-market holds the most opportunity right now. What are some of the functions that have migrated from the high-end to the mid-range?

CANEPA: First of all, it's the functionality of the system itself. Everything is redundant, everything is hot-swappable. In the past, you only saw these capabilities in the expensive, bigger systems. The fact that you can repair the product without having to take down the application%85 that kind of capability is finding its way into the mid-tier systems. In the past, things like Snapshot was found in big, expensive solutions. Other examples include phone-home capability and network system management as well as home monitoring. These things were once the province of big, expensive million-dollar machines and now mid-tier machines have tools that allow you to pro-actively discover a disk drive that may be nearing the end of its life.

VARBusiness: What are customers asking for? Do you see yourself guiding them to the mid-tier?

CANEPA: Increasingly customers are speaking the business language. They talk about the total cost of ownership of their storage environment. For every dollar of storage drives they buy, they are still spending eight or nine dollars to just manage it. What they are very much interested in is reducing those numbers. Second is, they talk about the overall total cost of recovery and total cost of disaster recovery, With everything that happened in the last two years, it is becoming a bigger thing in people's minds. E-mail, for instance is becoming a regular issue. You need to keep e-mails for long periods of time. And so companies are under the burden of making a lot of these things happen. They want to be able to comply at the best possible price. Our response is just to continue to drive this robust data center functionality further down the product line.

Sponsored post

VARBusiness: So what does this ultimately mean for the high-end market?

CANEPA: We think there is always going to be a high-end market. If you look at the server equivalent, there still is a mainframe market @ even though the vast majority of computation is done with big servers at a much lower total cost. If you look at the whole Unix industry. The same thing happened. We started to build mid-tier boxes. Fifteen years ago, people thought that a Unix machine would not be able to compete with the mainframe. There was a big gap. But over a few years we started to build better Unix servers and we drove data center functionality into the Unix servers. Pretty rapidly we could do the vast majority of data center server applications, at least as well or better than mainframe. I think the same thing is happening in storage. The traditional monolithic storage box is going to get confined to a particular set of applications where customers want absolute big monolithic design. But for more and more applications, these mid-tier systems are going to be far better solutions.

VARBusiness: What you go into high-end end competitive bid, who do you come up against the most?

CANEPA: It depends. If the customer is simply looking at storage, then EMC tends to be the tradition competitor there. If it's an end-to-end solution, where the customer is looking at server and storage or buying a complete infrastructure environment, then by far IBM is the typical competitor.

VARBusiness: Let's go back to the mid-tier. Tell me what Sun I is investing in the mid-tier. Talk about your products. Talk about your roadmap.

CANEPA: We have been investing in the mid-tier for about three or four years. We have a mid-tier line of products. We have the 3910, 3960 and the 6910 and 6960. They are basically able to scale to about 20 TB which is pretty good size for a mid-tier system. We are able to offer significant price savings on a per-megabyte system compared to other systems. We are putting the final touches on a total refresh in the mid-tier product line. So you need to watch this space because we are not that far away from showing new systems and technologies.

VARBusiness: In the mid-tier side, which vendor do you often come up against. Is it EMC's Clariion products or is it Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks line?

CANEPA: In the mid-tier, there is a bit more of variety out there. Certainly, we see the Clariion quite a bit. We see (Hewlett-Packard's) EVA every once in a while. I think HP in that middle-tier system tends to stay close to their installed base. So we will see HP in an account that tends to have a lot HP servers or we are sharing a SAN and both of our servers are on it. As you go further down the line, on the lower end, of the mid-range we tend to see more of the Compaq EMA lin. We tend to see them in the channel.

VARBusiness: With EMC's partnership with Dell, have they become a more significant force with Clariion?

CANEPA: We think the partnership with Dell has allowed them to go into the channel primarily to attach storage to Win2K and T-base systems. Right now, by and large, we see Wintel SANS tend to be separate from enterprise SANs. We don't see Dell having the capability, the professional services or the ability to write support contracts to really come in (and put a mark in the enterprise space). They tend to focus on the NT space. Customers in the enterprise storage environment are a pretty conservative set of folks. So selling storage is not about selling disk drives. Selling storage is about selling end to end capabilities. It's about selling support. Guaranteeing that the data won't go away. Helping them assess their storage utilization. Giving them software tools or professional services to help them architect, implement and manage their systems. We do millions of dollars a year as a company in managed services for clients. A lot of those are storage managed services, where we do something as simple as monitor their systems or more sophisticated managed services. Those are things that companies like Sun can do. Dell is a long way away from that.

VARBusiness: There has been a lot of talk about storage management software. Is it still considered the market that everyone is anticipating it to be?

CANEPA: I think a of differentiation is going to be rooted in software. But we think, over time, customers are not going to go out and buy software in traditional sense. We think increasingly software is going to be an inherent set of functionality that comes with the storage system. We believe very much that customers want to buy are systems and systems are going to have functionality. That functionality is the result of a bunch of engineers writing a bunch of code. But it won't get marketed as software, especially from system makers. It will get marketed as features of the storage environment. So it may look like hardware even though 70 percent of the engineers that I have are software engineers. Most of the functionality of the storage system manifests itself through software engineering.