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Commentary: Sun's storage strategy?

EMC may have a point when it says Sun Microsystems has a bit of a credibility problem with regard to its storage strategy.

By Roger Cox, Gartner analyst

Does Sun protest too much?

EMC may have a point when it says Sun Microsystems has a bit of a credibility problem with regard to its storage strategy. Sun has jumped around quite a bit in that area, and, reading between the lines, its latest announcement suggests that Sun might change its strategy yet again.

See news story:
Eyeing EMC, Sun talks up storage plans
Even as it maintains that it is committed to its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) relationship with Hitachi and Hitachi Data Systems, Sun announced that it is making its T3 a more robust product offering.

That begs the question of whether Sun is really committed to the HDS storage product, the HDS 9900, which is now being sold by Sun as the StorEdge 9900. Buyers of the product may well ask, "What's the real strategy here? Does Sun have a commitment to HDS over the long run, or is it planning to get rid of the product as soon as it can fix up its own product?"

The T3 is a very good midrange storage product, but it isn't enterprise class. Still, Sun keeps trying to push it in that direction. And in the end, an in-house product will usually encroach on an OEM product. That means buyers of the StorEdge 9900, the Sun version of the HDS 9900, should be wary.

Sun has been through several unsuccessful attempts to crack the storage market for its own Solaris products: first, the OEM relationship with LSI Logic; second, the failed A7000, purchased from Encore; and then the first iterations of the T3. The OEM arrangement with HDS followed in late 2000--but only after Sun CEO Scott McNealy, who doesn't want Sun to be a reseller of products from other companies, was persuaded by his executive team that Sun could not gain a leadership position in the market with Sun Solaris external RAID controller-based storage without a true enterprise-class storage solution.

Moreover, it's important to keep in mind that HDS sold some 350 of its high-end storage systems, the HDS 9900, in the Solaris market in 2000, before the relationship with Sun existed. Therefore, when Sun says it will sell upward of 500 StorEdge 9900 systems by June, that figure must be netted out from the 300 or 350 that HDS would have sold anyway, meaning that in reality more like 200 will be sold.

Tightly joined storage systems, servers and software may be a better strategy for Sun--and companies in general--but it doesn't necessarily serve customers' interests better. There aren't many customers that dedicate a whole IT infrastructures to one company--most have heterogeneous installations.

All that said, much of what Sun has done in the storage area represents progress. Sun needs to recapture leadership for external storage in the Solaris market, in which it now trails EMC. But Gartner believes that is unlikely to happen for a year or two at least.

(For a related commentary, on Hitachi Data Systems' midrange storage offerings, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.