Sun executive reveals Nas strategy

Sun Microsystems plans to beef up its Nas (network-attached storage) product line with support for utility computing and its new...

Sun Microsystems plans to beef up its Nas (network-attached storage) product line with support for utility computing and its new zettabyte file system (ZFS), according to an executive of the company's network storage products group.

The new Nas products might also possibly include a new deep archiving technology, called Honeycomb, developed in Sun's labs, and have features including better compliance with Worm (write once, read many) storage, said Balint Fleischer, vice-president and chief technology officer of  the network storage products group of Sun.

However, Fleischer would not commit on a timeframe for the inclusion of new features in Sun's Nas products, indicating they will most likely be phased in over more than a year.

ZFS is a highly scalable file system that made its debut in Sun's Solaris 10 operating system launched earlier this year.

"We have customers today whose applications require them to store a huge number of files, huge number of objects, and ZFS will help solve that problem," Fleischer said. ZFS may be used, for example, as the core engine for providing location management and naming in a Nas, he added.

Sun entered the Nas appliance market in September with the StorEdge 5210. A second Nas appliance, the StorEdge 5310, was launched in November.

Although Sun invented NFS (network file system), the main file system used in Nas, it was included in systems not dedicated to Nas. A large number of customers were actually using Sun servers as Nas servers or NFS servers, according to Fleischer.

"But these were not designed as Nas appliances, and there is a big difference between a NFS server and a Nas appliance," he said. "This is the bit we were confused about, because we didn't know what would be the incremental business from creating a Nas appliance."

Nas is not attractive for heavy-duty transaction processing environments, because it does not have the performance, reliability and data integrity that Sans (storage area networks) offer, said Fleischer, adding that San products also scale better because of virtualisation technologies. 

Now that it understands the Nas appliance market better, Sun plans to deploy its own operating system and multithreaded CPU (central processing unit) technology  to enhance the performance of  its NAS products, according to Fleischer.

The current Nas products use Xeon processors from Intel. Having come in at the midrange of the Nas market, Sun plans to expand its Nas product range to scalable, high-performance appliances at the high end, and low cost, entry-level products, Fleischer added.

In September, Sun started offering utility computing on a pay-for-use basis on some of its storage products.

"The customer is not paying for capacity alone, but managed capacity, which includes storage administration and back-up and restore," said Fleischer, adding that Sun found out from its work on N1, its virtualising and provisioning technology, that customers want a complete package, including service and support, rather than only capacity-on-demand.

Sun is offering pay-for-use only on the StorEdge 9980 and StorEdge 6920, both San storage products, because these have the partitioning technology appropriate for utility computing. A high-end product, StorEdge 9990, also has a partitionable storage system, and the company plans to offer utility computing on this product too, Fleischer said.

The company is also designing some of its new Nas products to have the partitioning capabilities required to sell them into the utility computing space, he said. 
The Nas market is being commoditized, driven by Nas products based on Linux and XFS, an open-source journalled file system technology, and also by Microsoft's Windows Storage Server, Fleischer said.

The way for Sun to stay ahead of the commoditisation is by defining the feature set that the customer would like to see, and adding those to its next products quickly, Fleischer said.

The threat of commoditisation is also why Sun is not considering using embedded Linux in its Nas products.

"We have not found any value in embedding Linux in storage," Fleischer said. "The other problem with Linux is that if you add a  lot of value into the storage system, you have to make the kernel level modifications available to the public under open source, and there goes all your differentiation."

John Ribeiro writes for IDG News Service

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