Sun ponders grid computing come storage future

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday attempted to articulate a future computing architecture that combines elements of grid computing with storage networking.

In a meeting with Sun’s Rich Napolitano, vice president of data service platforms, and Wolfgang Gentzsch, director of grid computing, the two executives discussed the similarities between today’s utility-like grid computing architecture and the emerging storage architecture that adds a layer to SAN that virtualizes data across multiple arrays. The executives also attempted to explain how Sun believes they are uniquely qualified to bring the two disparate industries closer together in a few years, yet were vague on specifics.

“Under N1 we’re working on the convergence of virtualization of computing and data services,” Gentzsch said. “Sun is in a unique position to innovate on servers, storage systems, and between them.”

The layer between servers and storage is a product Sun will reveal in a few months that is being developed via technology Sun acquired from Pirus Networks in November 2002. Napolitano was formerly the president and CEO of Pirus and said the technology will be productized in the “next 60 days.” Initially the product will be sold to professional service providers, who will then offer the technology as a service.

Napolitano explained that the data service platform will ultimately permit storage administrators to take many of the applications that run in a proprietary way today in individual arrays, such as replication, and put them on a forthcoming Sun appliance that uses general purpose CPUs and a cross-bar switch architecture. The CPUs will run the applications and the cross-bar switch will minimize latency.

The initial application that will be supported on the appliance permits snapshot functions — recording a point and time copy of a data set –across multiple arrays, regardless of vendors. Napolitano added that array vendors today have built this type of technology into their individual arrays via proprietary means; therefore, it doesn’t work across competitor’s arrays.

Tying storage into grid computing won’t happen overnight though, explained Napolitano. He said that the architects from each of their divisions will begin working together and that only recently had he and Gentzsch began talking about how to combine their individual group efforts. On exactly what is not clear at this point. Gentzsch did acknowledge that an appliance sitting in between applications and other compute or data store elements is a possibility.

He concluded, though, that an appliance combining grid computing and storage is not needed today.