Sun Microsystems has a secret network-attached storage project involving 64-bit Opterons and densely packed drive arrays to provide better and faster storage applications to serve, store and protect data.
The company's latest StorEdge 5310 network-attached storage appliance uses a single Xeon CPU and can scale to 65Tbytes of FC storage or 179Tbytes of SATA capacity via 28 expansion units. But the Honeycomb project reportedly has four Opteron blades mounted on a mid-plane with 16 drives at the rear of the 3U rack shelf unit. Each blade would have two Gigabit Ethernet links to the outside world.
This provides a huge amount of additional processing power compared to the 5310. Such power could be bought to bear on block-based storage servers, virtualisation, 64-bit file systems such as Sun's SAM FS, and even storage grids.
Sun's purchase of Kealia in February boosted its Opteron-focused design efforts. Kealia was a start-up designing Opteron-based servers that employed Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, the man who hired current Sun boss Scott McNealy. Sun currently sells V40z four-way Opteron servers.
The 64-bit AMD Opteron chip can run 32-bit code. It is generally reckoned to outperform Intel chips except in floating point mathematical operations. Dual-core Opterons are eagerly awaited by Sun.
"Sun is committed to delivering the best x86 systems for 32-bit and 64-bit computing and with the great promise of the forthcoming dual-core processors from AMD, I'm confident we will continue to outpace the competition," said John Fowler, executive vice-president of Sun's network systems group.
A single Honeycomb won't have that much storage: a set of 16 250Gbyte drives offers 4Tbytes, a rack of 14 of the 3U units would offer 56Tbytes, and they would need high-speed interconnections.
Sun and Topspin have said they will offer integrated utility computing systems that include Topspin's intelligent fabric products and Sun's AMD Opteron-based systems. Servers can be linked together into high-performance grids with a virtualised network, storage connectivity and applications on demand.
In 2002, Sun acquired storage switching and virtualisation technology company Pirus. Little has been heard since. At the time Mark Canepa, Sun's executive vice-president for network storage, said, "We are thrilled to be integrating the Pirus team and technologies into our organisation and leading storage offerings. Virtualisation is a critical component of Sun's N1 strategy."
Pirus technology is now emerging. Sun's StorEdge 6920 drive array, designed to compete with EMC's Clariion CX700 and IBM's FastT900 scales to 65Tbytes - the same as the 5310. It uses Pirus technology such as a volume manager, point-in-time copy capabilities and advanced zoning capabilities.
Put Pirus technology, Topspin Infiniband links, Bechtolsheim's Opteron expertise and the Honeycomb boxes together and a supercharged network-attached storage system could emerge.
Sun has not made as much money from storage as it has from servers. This has allowed competitors such as EMC to take storage revenue share from it. The company is determined to change that and sees an integrated set of storage products as the way to do it.
"We intend to aggressively attack the multibillion-dollar storage market," said Canepa. You can't get much clearer than that.
Chris Mellor writes for Techworld