Sun Microsystems Inc. is bulking up its storage portfolio to help customers brace for looming compliance, archival and data management woes by adding Storage Technology Corp.s tape and backup technology to its systems management approach.
Last week, Sun purchased StorageTek in a cash deal for approximately $4.1 billion. StorageTek, of Louisville, Colo., has built its reputation on a distribution model encompassing enterprise and midrange tape drive, tape library and virtual tape products but has recently begun to shift its offerings toward a software- and services-based ILM (information lifecycle management) direction.
By combining a strong tape repertoire with virtualization and ILM offerings geared toward regulatory compliance, data retention and storage management, Sun will be able to offer a much broader range of storage capabilities, said Mark Canepa, executive vice president at Suns Network Storage Products Group, in Santa Clara, Calif.
"ILM is more than disk, as EMC [Corp.] likes to talk about. ILM is a lot about tape," said Canepa. "Most data that gets archived eventually ends on tape, so tape is an incredibly important part of delivering on an information ecosystem."
Despite the growing popularity of disk-based backup and shrewder decisions on the part of customers to reduce data volume being backed up onto tape to simplify management and combat tighter backup windows, Canepa defended Suns multibillion-dollar investment in StorageTek.
"The ability to keep a lot of spinning disks around is an expensive value proposition," Canepa said. "For transportability and storage retrieval, you cant beat tape—and we dont think there will be a change for a long time to come."
According to a recent study by Freeman Reports, based in Ojai, Calif., StorageTek holds 36 percent of the archived digital data market. Its closest pursuers are IBM, at 16 percent, and Advanced Digital Information Corp., at 15.3 percent, according to the report.
StorageTek is not standing still, either. This week at the Storage World Conference in Long Beach, Calif., the company plans to unveil a tape and archive system that will go head-to-head with EMCs Centera.
Jed Dobson, systems architect for Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., is running a StorageTek L700 tape library alongside various Sun storage products. Dobson said he hopes the StorageTek acquisition will lead to better pricing on lower-end tape library units and stronger Sun support in Windows environments.
"I know StorageTek has done a lot more in Windows environments, which Sun hasnt touched," Dobson said. "Perhaps they can take something like the Sun [StorEdge] 6920 that Ive been using for a while, but I havent seen [the 6920] getting into non-Sun environments."
Dobson said the companies are headed in similar directions with products featuring trays of SATA (Serial ATA) disks attached to larger controllers and a handful of those connected to SANs (storage area networks). However, he said there is room for improvement in Suns erratic behavior toward its storage portfolio.
"Weve spent a lot of money on storage, and Ive seen them move around on a variety of products. Sometimes the cycles have been too rapid," Dobson said. "A lot of these low-end storage products come and go from Sun so Im anxious to hopefully see them come up with a better strategy."
Dobson said that acquiring an "extremely well-known and respected" storage company such as StorageTek will significantly boost Suns reputation as a storage provider.
"[Sun should] be able to clean up some of its storage strategy," he said. "I understand they bought this with cash, and thats over 50 percent of their cash. That certainly sends a sign to me theyre making a strong push into storage and want to be a real large player there."