Sun Embarks on New Storage 'Road'

By Judy Mottl

November 11, 2008

Sun today launched its first storage appliance family built on open source technology, bundling data management and analytics, simplified installation and mixed storage devices in a bid to capitalize on enterprises' eye for lower-cost storage opportunities.

Called "Amber Road," the Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) Storage 7000 product family includes three systems, the 7110, 7210 and 7410, which range in capacity from 2 terabytes (TB) to 288 TB. All three are built on the company's Open Solaris platform, part of the company's open source initiatives that it first unveiled in 2005.

In a Webcast today, Sun said the new 7000-series Unified Storage System products offer a five-minute setup, simple management and wide flexibility. The two higher-end systems -- the Sun Storage 7210 and 7410 -- use a mix of memory technologies, including dynamic random access memory (DRAM), flash-based solid-state drives and hard disk drives.

The mix, according to Sun, provides flexibility for avoiding bottlenecks and greater performance at less energy costs. The entry-level 7110 appliance is geared for remote offices and small business, and includes only the hard disk drives.

In a statement, John Fowler, executive vice president in Sun's systems group, called the products "the biggest thing to happen to storage in decades."

The Amber Road debut comes as enterprises want cheaper storage to manage a growing collection of data, against a background of tech budgets that are increasingly either on-hold or being cut. Businesses also want greater efficiencies around storage operations, given rising utility costs such as power and cooling.

Meanwhile, the products arrive as Sun itself is feeling the sting from the economic climate: Its third quarter earnings represented a 10-year low.

The launches build on several years of intermittent open source storage releases. Most recently, Sun debuted a high-performance open source storage offering, the Sun Fire x4540.

Brian Babineau, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, said that while Sun still needs to prove itself as a major storage player, the products do offer something enticing -- a low cost factor.

The 7110 begins at $10,000, while the 7210 starts at $34,995 and the 7410 starts at $57,490 for a single-node, 12 TB version, and at $89,490 for a clustered, 12TB configuration.

"With what is going on in the economy, anyone who has a functional, low-cost technology solution will turn a few heads," Babineau told InternetNews.com, adding that the industry will start paying closer attention to Sun if it produces consistent product cycles.

Other storage analysts gave Sun credit for continuing its commitment to open source storage technology. Yet they noted the products fall short of pushing Sun up the vendor ranks, given growing competition and economics that have many enterprises stalling on new purchases.

"This news rings all the right bells, and six or seven months ago, it would have resonated with buyers. But the problem now is that we have an economy in a full swoon," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com. "Most enterprises aren't looking to be adventurous."

"I'd also have to respectfully disagree with Fowler's statement," King added. "Sun has never been a believable player in the storage market."

One feature that may sweeten the deal for enterprises is that all three Amber Road appliances include data services such as replication, thin providing and compression -- add-on services that are typically sold as separate services. They also feature analytical tools for tracking performance, managing capacity planning and troubleshooting issues.

Additionally, the 7210 and 7420 also feature what Sun termed "self healing management" tools designed by Sun through its internal FishWorks project.

Sun's FishWorks effort (with "Fish" being short for "Fully Integrated Software and Hardware") is aimed at developing technologies to help enterprise diagnosis, troubleshoot and fix storage system issues.

Update corrects feature set on the new products.