Honeycomb to sweeten Sun NAS line

Sun is developing a new storage appliance designed for massive data archives

Sun Microsystems has quietly moved a team of approximately 20 of its research engineers into its Network Storage product group, assigning them the task of developing a new storage appliance designed for massive data archives.

At the heart of the new device is technology, called Project Honeycomb, which was originally developed in the company's research and development group, Sun Labs. Honeycomb uses new indexing and storage software designed to make it easier and quicker to search and retrieve files in large storage systems.

"It's giving users an ability to Google their data," said James Whitemore, senior director of network storage marketing with Sun.

Over the past year, Sun worked with two beta testers, including the University of California's San Diego Supercomputer Center, building prototypical Honeycomb storage system out of commodity parts.

Though the final product configuration has yet to be determined, Sun has built one 3U (5.25-inch high) Honeycomb "shelf" that contains four server nodes, each running Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron chips, and each with four 400GB ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives.

The Honeycomb software indexes the data on the storage appliances, essentially building a massive distributed database of information about the files. Honeycomb appliances can be networked together, giving users a way to index and search as much as a petabyte, or one million gigabytes, of storage.

The Sun researchers also wrote software that prevents data from being lost in the event of disk failure. They claim their approach is more efficient and easier to use than current RAID (redundant arrays of independent disks) products.

The appliance will likely compete with "content addressable" storage products like EMC's Centera devices or Hewlett-Packard's Reference Information Storage System, said Stanley Zaffos, research director with Gartner. One major difference, however, is that Honeycomb users will increase storage capacity by adding server nodes rather than individual disks, he said.

Honeycomb is about six months away from being unveiled as a product, and Sun executives are still debating whether to include the software as part of the companies existing NAS (network attached storage) servers, or to offer Honeycomb as a stand-alone product. Either way, the company clearly has high hopes for Honeycomb. "If we get it right, it'll be as big as NFS (Network File System)," Whitemore said.

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