New head for Sun storage unit

Sun Microsystems has named Mark Canepa the new head of its storage products, a move that could mean big changes for the often-struggling division.

Sun Microsystems has named Mark Canepa the new head of its storage products, a move that could mean big changes for the often-struggling division.

Canepa had been in charge of Sun's workstations and low-end servers, a division that caught attention by using aggressive pricing to win market share against Windows-Intel machines. He replaces Janpieter Scheerder, who retired after nine years with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, Sun announced Friday.

Sun's storage products haven't been the rip-roaring success its server products have been. That wasn't such a big issue in 1999, when Internet-related companies were giddy with optimism, but many believe storage products aren't being hit as hard as servers in the current dot-com decline.

Under Scheeder's tenure, Sun has acquired four storage companies to try to bolster its storage push--Encore, MaxStrat, RedCape and HighGround Systems. The Encore products flopped, however, and the RedCape storage management software called Jiro is held in low esteem by storage observers. The T3 storage system resulting from the MaxStrat acquisition, while doing reasonably well, isn't the EMC-killer Sun had hoped.

In recent years, storage products have soared in prominence and profitability, carrying market leader EMC to growth that was the envy of Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others. Where storage devices once occupied a lowly position in the shadow of servers, they are increasingly stand-alone devices with their own features.

Sun, though, has consistently argued against this increasing independence of storage systems. Chief Executive Scott McNealy often remarks, "Storage is a feature of the server."

"That is so blatantly, unbelievably misguided," Illuminata analyst John Webster said of McNealy's belief. "If that's true, how did EMC and StorageTek get to where they are?"

Webster said he believes Sun storage people have wanted for years to sell storage products that worked not just with Sun's servers but with others' as well. "But they seem to be in conflict with Mr. McNealy," he said.

While Sun has subordinated its storage products, IBM has elevated its storage group under Linda Sanford to the same level as its server group. And HP's top storage executive, Nora Denzel, believes HP is becoming a storage company that happens to sell servers rather than the other way around.

Canepa has the opportunity to change things, Webster said. "I hope he's a strong advocate for storage within Sun," he said.

In another announcement Friday, Sun united two server groups in the wake of the departure of John MacFarlane. He had led the Network Service Provider group, which focused on servers for telecommunications firms and companies such as Exodus who built computer centers they'd rent out to others. The group had been in charge of Netra and Cobalt server lines.

That group now has been merged within the System Products group, which controls the rest of Sun's servers. John Shoemaker, who had led the System Products group, now will have control over MacFarlane's former dominion as well.