Sun redefines its views on storage

With growing uncertainty in server sales set to continue, the importance of peripherals has been on the lips of many an analyst. With this in mind, Sun Microsystems is turning itself into a data storage shop.

With the recent downturn in PC sales and a bleak forecast for the months ahead, the sever industry has been a shining light for many manufacturers

The demise of the high-flying dot-com sector and corporate caution on spending due to the United States economy have hit demand for servers. With growing uncertainty in server sales set to continue, the importance of peripherals has been on the lips of many an analyst. With this in mind, Sun Microsystems, itself facing slowing growth in its core servers market, is turning itself into a data storage shop, a senior executive said on Friday. This is in spite of scepticism that the network computer maker could successfully shift into a new area.

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Once considered as an afterthought, storage has become the new hope for the technology sector as the corporate world invests in equipment to keep track of customers and business data. Denise Shiffman, vice-president of storage marketing, having been with Sun for many years, has seen the company move from a workstation vendor to a server vendor and has seen storage grow in importance.

About half of Sun's storage sales are disks attached to computers, but such systems can create network bottlenecks as the central server computer with unique access to data does double duty sending information and attempts to keep the network running. Many believe that the solution is to hand over storage management duties to purpose built machines or storage area networks (SANS).

Sun’s T3 storage system, which has been out for less than a year, is forming the core element of their strategy and vision of open storage networks that are modular, highly scalable and highly managed. Sun's share of global storage sales grew last year to 10.4 per cent of the market from 8.7 per cent and the T3 had been purchased for use with non-Sun servers.

But some analysts wonder if Sun is doing enough in this area. Their critics say Sun still thinks of storage as a peripheral. Merrill Lynch financial analyst Thomas Kraemer said Sun's T3 was not good enough. "We continue to like Sun's server position, but storage matters more," he said in a February 21 report. "The increasing demand for storage, and Sun's weakness in this area, is really coming back to bite them now." They continue to wonder at Sun’s ability to take on firms like EMC in the storage market.

But Sun believes that they have an edge over such firms, as Shiffman said, “… if a single database or program runs on a system that is all from one vendor - for example Sun - theoretically it is all bound to work together. "They need to know end-to-end that the thing is going to work, and when it doesn't they want to make one phone call.”