Sun Storage Chief: We're Not for Sale

EVP checks in with what's true and what's not in the wake of StorageTek buy

November 9, 2006

4 Min Read
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Because Sun Microsystems hasn't laid out a clear storage strategy and has undergone big structural changes in the 14 months since its $4.1 billion acquisition of StorageTek, the rumor mill has been working overtime on its storage division.

Industry sources claim that Sun has talked to partner Hitachi Data Systems and perhaps others about selling all of its storage, or either its tape, disk or select parts of its disk business. (See Sun, Hitachi Talk Storage.)

David Yen, who replaced Mark Canepa as EVP of Sun's Storage Group in May, told Byte and Switch today that none of that is true. (See Sun Names Storage Boss and Sun Takes Action Amidst Concerns.)

"I'm amazed at some of the rumors I hear -- that we're selling off the business or making certain personnel changes," he says. "We just spent $4.1 billion to acquire StorageTek. It doesn't make sense for us to sell it off. If we talk to HDS about our partnership, people automatically use the word 'sell.' None of those things are true."

Yen even denied one rumor we hadn't heard -- that he's leaving Sun for a position at Stanford University. He also denied that marketing VP Nigel Dessau will be the next to leave Sun.Still, Yen admits the overactive rumor mill "is probably part our fault." There have been changes at the top -- Jonathan Schwartz replaced Scott McNealy as CEO in May -- plus layoffs and a great deal of confusion about Sun's storage product line since it bought StorageTek. (See Sun Sets on StorageTek.)

So what is true at Sun? First, Yen says Sun does have a storage strategy. It is to try and increase its market share with the StorageTek tape library business, secure the open systems virtual tape product that has been so elusive, widen its partnerships on SAN systems, and make up ground in an area where he says Sun has clearly dropped the ball: NAS.

"NAS should be one area where we excel - 'the computer is the network,' " he says, echoing Sun's long-time tagline. "For various reasons, we didn't excel there, but NAS is identified as a focus area for us to invest more in."

He says Sun will have a new NAS product line next year combining the IP it acquired from Procom used in current Sun NAS products with Sun's Zettabyte File System. (See Sun Pushes Into NAS and Sun Buys Procom NAS Assets.) It will be based on Sun's Solaris operating system.

If the vendor follows that path, it would dispel another rumor: that Sun will acquire NAS vendor Isilon (too much redundancy).The execs say they will widen some of Sun's many storage partnerships and explore new ones. But they say they will not sell off the midrange StorageTek 6920/40 midrange SAN system, which is the only SAN product that Sun makes completely on its own.

"Sell is the wrong word," Yen says. "We're exploring ways to see what's the best way for us to develop that product -- organically by ourselves or partnering with someone. But we're serious about that product."

Yen says Sun won't become a major storage player overnight, but he maintains being a systems and storage vendor will prove advantageous in the long term. "I think in 10 to 15 years, the three largest storage companies may be Sun, HP, and IBM," he says.

But to take on current storage leader EMC, Yen says Sun has to pick its spots and partner carefully. "EMC has invested a lot of money for a long time, you're not going to catch up by trying to excel everywhere," he says. "You'd be trying to boil the ocean."

When it comes to innovation, he points to Sun's Thumper product -- a server-attached system that supports 48 drives -- as a SAN alternative for SMBs, and the Honeycomb project that Sun has talked about for years but hasn't yet delivered. (See Sun Thumps Storage-Server Hybrid and Sun Signals Say 'Storage'.) The jury is still out on both.He also says Sun still intends to take another whack at a virtual tape library for open systems, a project that StorageTek and Sun have failed to deliver after years of trying. (See Sun Shuts Door on VSM Open.) Yen and Dessau say Sun will build on the VTL Plus product, based on FalconStor software it announced last month. (See Sun Opens Tape Again.) "The fastest way to get that product out was to partner with FalconStor, and layer on our own features," Dessau says. "We will develop a version that will be unique to Sun."

Yen says he doesn't rule out more storage acquisitions down the road, but says he still has his plate full integrating StorageTek. "We still have a lot of cash," he says. "On the other hand, we'll try to be practical. We are on the lookout, but we have to digest first." /p>

— Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Isilon Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ISLN)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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