Sun's expanded storage lineup takes on data boom

Sun Storage J4000 arrays can cost just $1 per gigabyte for bulk storage, with significant savings resulting from free software

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

The company says 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. The need for storage capacity is exploding, while the initial price of that storage and the cost of staff to manage it remain high, said Ray Austin, group manager for storage product marketing at Sun.

On Wednesday, Sun introduced a line of storage arrays called the Sun Storage J4000 series, designed for customers ranging from small businesses to large enterprises with the biggest and fastest-growing storage needs anywhere. 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 46TB to 480TB. 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 SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives

-- J4400: four drives per tray and as many as six SATA ports, with a maximum 192 SAS/SATA drives

-- J4500: 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 HBA (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 storage software it offers for download, as well as the company's overall emphasis on free software. 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 SAN (storage area network), along with multiple IT administrators to look over each, according to Sun. The company's combination of software platforms unifies management and reduces the need for ongoing administration, Austin 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 up front," he said.

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

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 percent of the college's servers, COAS is looking to move the rest over, too. Storage is the college's biggest IT challenge, and it's driving server OS choice, he said.

However, many IT organizations that are adding to existing infrastructure will be faced with a complex management problem, according to Illuminata 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 hiring 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 kinds of 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 of Enterprise Strategy Group.

"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."

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