Sun Sheds Light on Storage Blueprint

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-05-05

Sun Sheds Light on Storage Blueprint

At its Network Computing event on May 2 in Washington, D.C., Sun Microsystems unveiled a host of new storage offerings and upcoming products poised to launch the systems management company into the upper echelon of the storage provider elite. Mark Canepa, executive vice president of the Data Management Group at Sun, talked to Senior Writer Brian Fonseca about Suns unique network capabilities to address evolving storage requirements, the future of tape-based systems and how to perform better data housekeeping.

What advantage does Sun have toward building better storage systems and information management tools over other large systems vendors and pure-play storage providers?

Weve tied [storage] directly in place with Sun Microsystems. Theres a computational side to the network that is all about Opteron and SPARC and Solaris and middleware, basically providing an infrastructure layer for applications to attach themselves to so they can be developed at a much higher level than writing to an operating system. So if you now look at that and you start to take that application environment to its logical conclusion, what a few years ago in the data center was a few or few dozen fairly well-behaved servers—each running their own application environment—now that thing has become 100,000 instances of "containers," heterogeneous perhaps, and ultimately a grid.

So if youre computing environment goes from 10 to 100,000 [containers], what does your data environment look like in order to be able support that? Youre certainly not going to be putting 100,000 separate physical storage entities out there for each one of those containers to have. We have to be able to express onto [the] network a set of protocols and APIs that we call data services to allow 100,000 containers to think they have 100,000 storage environments, but the reality is you better implement those on a few dozen physical things, or you will never make it happen.

So in terms of ROI, what type of value proposition does that enable?

The value proposition is simple. Provide a set of data services to network that these applications can use so that the data that they need can be trusted, available and has the right value. We believe were uniquely positioned to implement that strategy. Because if you go underneath that data grid and data environment and you look at what you need to implement that strategy, not only do you need disk and tape, you need to be able to provide a layer of software that sits between the physical environment so you can create the data services. So you need an Opteron system, you need middleware, you need system-level know-how and Sun is one of the few companies that have all the ingredients to pull this off.

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Does Suns approach toward simplifying and optimizing storage utilization start from the server side on out or vice versa?

It ends up being a little bit of both. We start at the network. If you start with the network and the transform mechanism is either an Infiniband network or Fibre Channel, then you see what are the APIs and protocols that people want to talk to [each] another. What do the applications want to see when they look at data? There are all sorts of much more interesting and higher-level interfaces that applications really would like to talk to storage; the biggest one is XML. Why do you want to use NFS [Network File System] when you can say heres an XML object? Why not give the storage content knowledge?

[For instance,] heres an API that lets me delegate search. Search is going to become a huge interface with storage. What youre going to see is over time, storage boxes are going to be enabled to deliver much more intelligent things. That intelligence is going to require the worlds best operating system as an environment to write those storage-intensive applications. We have it. I can reach into 3 million Java developers and be able to build storage applets that sit inside my storage box.

Click here to read about EMCs plans to integrate Googles Desktop Search with its enterprise content management products.

XML is not something you traditionally hear about from storage companies.

Well, of course, thats because were a systems company. You talk to a storage company, the words you hear are RAID 6 and data replication. Thats a little like saying you better put plumbing in your basement. The first floor and second floor are marble bathrooms, which are search [and] XML—theyre these higher-level value layers. When EMC talks to you about the plumbing in the basement, were past that. Where is [EMCs] Centerras ability to do XML? Wheres Centerras ability to do anything open standards? At best they push it to a proprietary protocol.

Next Page: Simplifying storage management.


Is it a matter of making storage environments easier to manage? Get bigger, faster and quicker to compensate for a lack of expertise?

We must simplify the ability to deliver value. Sun is all about reduced cost and complexity; data management is all about providing more value and better TCO for any given SLA [service-level agreement], because if youve got 100,000 applets on the grid, how many milliseconds of system administration time can you devote to that applet to be able to access its storage environment? It better be zero, right?

The creation and provisioning of storage environments has to become extremely simple—thats the problem. Customers realize that a lot of their dollars are going into system administration. Whenever we design some of the storage provisioning side of this thing, were always mindful of the fact theres a compute side and we want to run the two together. Storage companies dont think about the application because they didnt grow up that way. Systems companies think about the application, because at the end of the day thats what people want. They want applications—everything else is housekeeping.

Does Sun have any plans to aggressively pursue the low-end SMB (small and midsize business) market for storage?

Well follow our Opteron. To the extent they go down there, well go down there. But I can tell you what the strategy is. You have no more need if youre an SMB of having your own IT infrastructure than you do having a nuclear power plant in the basement of your house. You have to be nuts [to want that] if youre going to run a small business. Do you have your own cell towers? No. You have a thin client and a network. If youre running a small company you dont install Siebel, you go to So our answer is were going to go down so far, but our strategy is to enable to become incredibly successful by virtual slicing. So well chase it a little bit, but the message to customers is go buy a set of services.

Sun has placed a large bet on the future of tape with the StorageTek acquisition. Where is tape going and how will it evolve?

There are two problems people tend to associate with tape. One problem is called data protection: I need to take something from my primary storage and make a copy to protect the data. Customers are going to decide how to protect their stuff. Certainly if they want to take the media and remove it, theyre going to move it with tape. People arent comfortable moving a bunch of disks. That market will be OK.

Labs Henry Baltazar says Suns StorageTek gamble makes sense. Click here to read more.

The other market is not a protection market, its an archival and retrieval market. It is all about not breaking the application paradigm. It is still part of your application environment; your application just needs to have a lot more retrievable data that it keeps around for a longer amount of time. That market is exploding and my guess is its going to be all tape-based. The reason is you cant afford to keep the disks constantly spinning.

Next Page: ECMs effect on tape.


Do you see ECM (enterprise content management) playing a role with tape-based systems?

If you look at the fixed content market, customers whine about tape and say something to the effect of, "I hate tape because I can never find anything so therefore I am going to archive everything onto disk." But if more and more of archive data needs to be retrievable, in other words, when a lawyer comes into the office and says, "I need every e-mail that says x in it and was written or received by this specific person the last seven years," if those tapes are at Iron Mountain, whats it going to take for you to retrieve those e-mails? If I do a content store of that data by some e-mail name and a few project names, I bet you I can retrieve that data, fast.

I have a feeling that ECM is going to have a huge effect on tape. Google being able to ask by the [U.S.] Department of Justice to provide clicks—were just getting started. You watch what happens [when] every text message, every picture, every instant message, every voice message, every e-mail has to be stored for years. Imagine a world where every interaction you have with your doctor has to be stored for your lifetime plus seven years, which is what the Europeans are trying to do already. Imagine being able to call up anything with an SLA of 90 seconds—that world is coming. Tape can do that but not disk.

What are Suns plans for storage encryption?

We will encryption-enable our Titanium platform. We are building technology right into the stack. Thats the way the world is going so you have to have base-underlying technology to do this stuff. It enables a total different value proposition on how you deal with data. Encryption plus virtualization of tape enables IM to become an online data archival environment. It changes everything.

How do you see the lines blurring between storage administration and security?

Thats why we call it identity-enabled storage. What youre managing with identity is … data, … e-mail, retention. [Its] the marriage of identity with ILM: The job of ILM is to move [data] all around; the job of identity is only the right stuff is moved around. Make your storage identity knowledgeable and all of a sudden you think about data differently.

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