Sun prepping storage push

Sun Microsystems Inc. is expected to unveil a standards-based management suite early next year that is designed to help customers get a better handle on their increasingly complex storage environments.

Sun’s initiative will come on the heels of similar recent announcements by vendors such as EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp. that extend storage management beyond controlling the vendors’ hardware, although observers say Sun’s effort may be more comprehensive. All of the vendors realize that customers are finding proprietary and point products less useful as they adopt network-attached storage, storage-area networks (SAN) and other new storage technologies.

“There would be some value in having a single place to manage all our storage, including our backups,” says Eric LeSatz, vice-president of information services at brokerage A.B. Watley Inc. in Allen, Tex. LeSatz uses BMC Software’s Patrol to manage Sun StorEdge T3 Arrays, and Veritas NetBackup and Oracle Replication to handle 2 terabytes of direct-attached storage. “I might be enticed to change to Sun software if there were a single package,” he says.

Sources within Sun say the company’s suite, at least in part, will be called Integrated Storage Management. The umbrella suite, comprising new and existing products, will include four smaller software suites focused on availability, utilization, performance and resource management.

Sun’s suite will be among the first storage management offerings to support the Distributed Management Task Force’s Common Information Model, which is designed to promote management of multivendor networks. Sun will also offer a software developer’s kit to help third parties tie in their products.

Sun is a significant player in the storage hardware market, accounting for a quarter of the terabytes shipped last year, according to IDC, and ranking second among SAN vendors behind Compaq Computer Corp., according to Gartner.

Sun’s been much less of a factor on the software side. However, like EMC and others in the storage market, it has started to pursue the higher margin storage software business, which The Yankee Group Inc. says will explode from a US$5.7 billion market this year into a US$14 billion one by 2005. The company sells a full line of back-up, replication, file system and resource management tools, resells Veritas software and has made several acquisitions during the past year in this area.

Among the components in the new suite is Sun’s Quick File System technology, which can be used to create large file systems from multiple disks and subsystems, and enables simultaneous reads and writes to multiple devices, thus eliminating system bottlenecks. Also, data grooming tools will be included to help IT managers with decisions on the appropriate storage media for data based on age or other characteristics.

Other components will include existing products such as the StorEdge Network Data Replicator, a business continuity package; StorEdge Instant Image, software for taking snapshots of data in real time; and HighGround Surveyor Storage Resource Management software, for storage assessment and proactive management. Clustering and policy-management software will also be included.

Among Sun’s differentiators, observers say, is that its suite will let customers manage not only storage resources from Sun and others, but also storage software, volumes and more. The software will be priced per terabyte managed, likely costing customers in the range of US$5,000 to US$25,000 for each suite within the umbrella suite.

“Sun will be a serious contender in the storage management market against EMC, IBM and Compaq,” says Steve Duplessie, an analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group. “They have a complete vision that gives a customer everything and more than they need. IT managers know that managing storage is the primary problem – being able to control, assess and take action based on rules is going to matter.”

“There are a lot of management products that tackle one aspect of the problem,” says Jamie Gruener, an analyst with The Yankee Group. “Finding the right set of storage-management tools to meet enterprise requirements is difficult though, since the market has been fragmented by management point products and storage system platform-specific management tools.”

Observers say an integrated multivendor system could help customers contain runaway storage-management costs. Gartner says it costs five to seven times as much to manage storage resources as it does for customers to buy the resources themselves.

“If a single package can do everything ‘correctly’ that a specific vendor package can do, I’m all for it,” says Robert Banniza, a senior system administrator for Ascension Health in Evansville, Ind., who uses separate Compaq, IBM and Sun tools to manage the vendors’ respective storage products.

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