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Sun slots storage pieces into N1 plan

The company pushes its effort to pool servers and storage systems a step further with the release of the storage management component.

Sun Microsystems is set to unveil on Tuesday the storage management component of its N1 plan to gather servers and storage systems into a single pool of computing power.

N1 is a set of products from Sun that are designed to lower the cost of operating corporate data centers through more efficient use of storage and servers. The data center automation initiative competes with similar efforts from rivals such as IBM, with its autonomic computing plan, and Hewlett-Packard, with its Utility Data Center.

Sun's N1 Data Platform is aimed specifically at giving network administrators the tools to manage several storage systems, company executives said. The Data Platform can pool, or "virtualize," the storage capacity of multiple storage arrays so that businesses can allocate resources to meet their needs more efficiently. For example, a company could dedicate more storage and servers to handle a spike in workload arising from the processing of monthly financial reports.

It is "not necessarily the spindles and devices" related to storage that companies will generally find worth their money, noted Anil Gadre, vice president of software marketing at Sun. "The real value-add to corporations is the management of that pool of storage, along with automated backup and recovery and notions of quality of service."

The first version of Sun's N1 Data Platform is a storage array and management console that Sun gained from its acquisition of Pirus Networks in September last year.

The system will provide a consolidated view of several storage arrays and allow administrators to allocate resources from the console. N1 Data Platform is available now in pilot form to certain customers and will be generally available later this year, according to Sun executives. Sun said the Data Platform software starts at $112,000.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company also plans to announce new hardware, updating its midrange storage line with two new products--the 6120 and 6320 models. The 6120 is aimed at the low end of the midrange market for storage products and provides from half a terabyte to 12 terabytes of storage. It is being touted by Sun as a cheaper alternative to EMC's Clariion CX400.

The 6320 offers up to 45 terabytes of storage and is designed to offer a better price-to-performance ratio than HP's EVA product, according to Sun. "We feel we've built a really high-performance system that at same time is really attractively priced," said Mark Canepa, an executive vice president who heads Sun's storage business.

For its part, HP added a new lower-priced EVA model this week, while IBM also introduced new midrange gear.

All for N1
Although Sun notes that its storage gear works with servers from many other companies, it acknowledges that its existing customer base is the source of most of the interest in its storage products.

"We don't think of ourselves as a separate storage company," Canepa said, noting that the company relies primarily on its existing sales force to push Sun gear. That said, Canepa added, "we have a multibillion-dollar storage business within Sun, and it's getting bigger."

As for N1, Sun will add other features, such as archiving and storage resource management, to its storage management consoles over the course of this year and next, executives said.

The technology giant will upgrade N1 Data Platform next year with the ability to automatically provision storage or add more storage capabilities, when a device hits a certain threshold, said James Staten, director of software marketing at Sun's storage division. Over the next two years, the company will expand N1 Data Platform with the ability to provision storage automatically based on predefined policies.

Sun will also tie the Pirus storage management technology to the server-provisioning software that it acquired from Terraspring last year, Staten said. From the Command Center management console of Terraspring, administrators will be able to set policies for storage and server resource allocation, he said.

"The fact that Sun launched (N1 Data Platform) as an element of an overall N1 strategy is the important part of the announcement. It means that it's not an island," said Tony Prigmore, analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. "One of the biggest problems with storage infrastructure is having lots of points to manage."

Sun has already released the first N1 products, which are designed to use automation to exploit blade servers more efficiently.

In other software announcements set for Tuesday, Sun is expected to unveil a more secure version of the standard edition of its Solaris operating system. Trusted Solaris Standard Edition, which starts at $999, adds the security architecture from a version of Solaris that adheres to the Common Criteria Certification scheme, which lays down a set of security guidelines aimed primarily at sensitive government institutions.

Sun also plans to introduce the Sun ONE Integration Server Secure Trading Agent, a version of its integration software that adds the ability to encrypt business documents. The software costs $2,000 per host connection.

Furthermore, the company is expected to announce that it will offer Project Orion to its customers by the middle of the year. Orion is Sun's plan to simplify the purchasing and deployment of multiple products by bundling and testing compatibility among Sun software products and releasing updates on a quarterly schedule.