Sun takes on data boom with expanded storage lineup

Sun is also updating its Sun Fire X4500 hybrid server-storage platform

With many organizations scrambling to meet exploding demand for storage capacity without constantly expanding their IT staffs, Sun Microsystems Inc. continues to push open-source software as a solution along with a new series of storage arrays and a hybrid server-storage system.

The company said it is trying to tackle twin problems plaguing some storage-intensive enterprises, such as online video providers, high-performance computing shops and companies with large server farms. In addition to increasing demand for storage capacity, the initial price of that storage and the cost of staffers to manage it remain high, said Ray Austin, group manager for storage product marketing at Sun.

Today, Sun introduced a line of storage arrays called the Sun Storage J4000 series designed for customers ranging from small businesses to large enterprises. The arrays, available now, can cost just $1 per gigabyte for bulk storage, with significant savings resulting from free software, according to Sun. The systems' high density is designed to save precious rack space.

The lineup starts at $3,000 and includes systems with maximum capacities ranging from 46TBs to 480TBs. The basic models are as follows:

  • J4200, with as many as 12 drives per tray, for up to 48 SAS (Serial Attached Small Computer Storage Interface) or Serial ATA drives
  • J4400, which has four drives per tray and as many as six SATA ports, with a maximum 192 SAS/SATA drives
  • J4500, which has four racks, with 48 drives per tray and as many as four SAS ports, for a total of 480 SATA drives

The company also introduced the StorageTek SAS RAID Host Bus Adapter, which lets users attach the J4000 arrays directly to servers running Solaris, Linux or Windows in OpenStorage and OpenSolaris environments.

Sun is also updating its Sun Fire X4500 hybrid server-storage platform, nicknamed "Thumper," with the X4540, which has twice the computing performance for the same price, according to the company. The system includes both server and storage capacity in a single device that takes up just four standard rack units and can hold 48 drives, Sun said. Like the X4500, introduced last year, it is designed for sites where space is at a premium. The X4540 will be available this month, with the X4500 family starting at $22,000.

Sun has built its Open Storage initiative around free software it offers for download. Used in combination with Sun's OpenSolaris server operating system and Solaris ZFS (Zettabyte File System), the J4000 series offers a cost reduction of as much as 10 times over traditional storage arrays, the company said.

Typical storage systems require separate management software for the servers, storage and storage-area network, along with multiple IT administrators to look over each, according to Sun. The company's combination of software systems unifies management and reduces the need for ongoing administration, Austin said.

The J4000 and Sun's software should smooth out transitions at Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS), according to Chuck Sears, manager of research computing. COAS already has about 1 petabyte of data and is bringing in a lot more from sensors in the field, including coastal radar systems and underwater gliders involved in climate-change research, Sears said.

It's hard to know what kinds of servers or storage COAS will need in the coming years, Sears said.

"As we become more rich in our sensors and our numerical modeling, it's not as easy to get our storage scheme right upfront," he said.

Sun's storage technology, especially ZFS, works well with the college's Solaris servers and makes those unexpected changes easier to carry out, according to Sears. COAS is an early user of the J4000 series and sees it as a good tool to keep up with data needs into the future, he noted.

Rather than turning to "baling wire and duct tape" to upgrade storage or servers in the future, "what this makes is a very nice, clean storage solution," Sears said. Because the storage system works so well with Solaris, which powers about 75% of the college's servers, COAS is looking to move the rest over, too. Storage is the college's biggest IT challenge and is driving server operating system choice, he said.

However, many IT organizations that are adding to existing infrastructures will be faced with a complex management problem, according to Illuminata Inc. analyst John Webster.

No matter what system is in place, things can go wrong, so availability is another key pain point for storage administrators, Webster said. IT managers are hungry for storage management software that can monitor performance, send alerts, find bottlenecks and even automatically solve problems, he said. Lacking that, the only way to deal with growing demand and complexity is to hire more people, which enterprises don't want to do. It's not clear how well Sun's offerings can deliver that kind of intelligence, he said.

Sun's free, open-source software approach, turning its platforms loose for third parties to address particular issues, is good news to many of the organizations that are already drawn to Sun, analysts said. Those include high-performance computing shops, Web 2.0 companies and universities. But for other customers, it doesn't help, said Terri McClure, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc.

"For the [general enterprise] market, they don't want to internally engineer a solution; they want a bundle," McClure said. "It's not free if you have to design, code and develop the solution on your own. You pay in labor costs."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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