Sun's NAS appliance enters crowded market

McNealy faces uphill battle to win over customers

Just weeks after moving former CEO Scott McNealy into a new role and installing Jonathan Schwartz as its new CEO, Sun made a major announcement in an area many analysts agree is key to its future survival: storage.

Sun unveiled a new storage appliance, the StorageTek 5320, on May 2. The new device is powered by an AMD Opteron processor and is being marketed as an affordable NAS appliance with upgradable storage and easy deployment. The 5320, however, is already swimming in crowded waters with competing products from EMC and NetApp hitting the streets on Monday.

The 5320 is a 2U rack-mountable appliance with 4GB of memory and four built-in Gigabit Ethernet ports.

It is the first Sun storage appliance to use AMD’s Opteron model 252 processor, which Sun has been using in its Sun Fire x64 servers. Opteron’s performance, low power consumption, and stable architecture are a good match for storage subsystems, Sun said.  A 5320 device with 2TB of storage costs approximately $50,000. The StorageTek can be upgraded to hold up to 179TB of disk capacity, Sun said.

But Sun faces stiff competition in the storage appliance market, including new products from a couple of major competitors.

EMC Monday will unveil a new design for its Clariion midrange storage products that it says will boost performance and flexibility. The new Clariion UltraScale architecture adds end-to-end support for 4Gbps Fibre Channel technology and allows users to intermix 2Gbps and 4Gbps disk drives in a single array.

Network Appliance is moving into the high-end storage space, on Monday as well, with a new line of storage arrays that can scale to 500TB. The arrays are geared for large enterprise applications and data consolidation and will compete with EMC’s high-end Symmterix DMX and Hitachi Data Systems’ Lightning arrays.

EMC’s midrange arrays start at $27,000. NetApp’s high-end arrays start at $131,600.

While NetApp and EMC dominate the market, Sun is shaking things up with its emphasis on price, performance and power consumption, said Richard Villars, an analyst at IDC.

The 5320 will fill in gaps in Sun’s storage product line that EMC or NetApp could exploit, said Tony Asaro, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. However, the company needs to do a better job tying its storage and software businesses together if it wants to get a leg up on its competitors, he said.