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Commentary: What Sun has in storage

The company never really left the storage market--it just seems that way. Now it must show how strong its commitment is, and how long it will hold.

Commentary: What Sun has in storage
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
June 9, 2004, 1:40PM PT

Bob Zimmerman, Principal Analyst

Sun Microsystems blames part of its $760 million quarterly loss on its terrible performance in the storage market.

To address this, it has introduced utility storage offerings: new NAS (network-attached storage) hardware, midrange and Serial ATA devices, advanced storage management software and smart SAN (storage area network) appliances. While the announcements are impressive, Sun has underachieved in this market and hurt its partners and suppliers along the way. It has assembled a strong storage team and may watch it drift away if this initiative fails.

Sun announced a wide range of storage products as part of its quarterly product launch event:

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•  A utility model for scalable "pay for use" storage for high-end SANs. The new utility pricing options feature StorEdge Power Units to deliver storage starting at about $20 per gigabyte per year. (For reference, at the height of the dot-com boom, storage service providers leased capacity at a minimum of $20 per gigabyte per month, and they couldn't sustain a profit.)

•  A soon-to-be-released, enterprise-class data services platform based on Pirus Networks' technology. (Sun purchased Pirus in 2002.) The Pirus switches will contain snapshot, remote replication and data migration capabilities in the first systems that ship in July or August. Sun plans to add mirroring and other functionality through software upgrades.

•  An enhanced version of Sun's policy-based file management system that provides information life-cycle management (ILM). ILM has been this year's buzzword for generating executive interest in storage, and Sun has missed the opportunity until now.

•  Two new Sun StorEdge 3000 array models that provide simple, adaptable, and expandable storage options; one based on Serial ATA technology, the other a universal boot device.

•  A new relationship with Procom Technology to fill out Sun's array line with NAS devices to be manufactured by others. Even though Sun created NFS, the access technology underpinning all NAS products, Sun simply missed its importance to the SMB IT shop and didn't sell NAS.

The key to this focus on storage is how strong Sun's commitment is, and how long it will hold. The company has invested millions of dollars in acquisitions and in research and development, built a deep storage team, and put a large part of its technology reputation on the line. The storage market, however, demands a long-term commitment. Users buy hardware in three- to five-year cycles; they integrate new software function into operations slowly.

Sun has historically shown a long-term commitment to its Solaris operating system but little else. If the storage sales come slowly, as they will, and Sun continues to report losses, will it stay the path? If not, staff will drift away, internal support will weaken, and customers will not include Sun on their preferred storage suppliers list.

So Sun still must prove that it can successfully deliver storage

Sun offers a broad array of solid storage products that complement its servers. As roughly 60 percent of storage is sold as part of a processor sale, Sun will continue to get that business. As businesses evaluate new capacity or replacement technology, they should focus on supplier viability and commitment to the storage market.

© 2004, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.