Sun exec outlines OpenSolaris storage strategy for partners

Sun pins its hopes on an OpenSolaris storage strategy to merge OpenSolaris with storage hardware and ultimately benefit Sun partners.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is pushing ahead with plans to merge its OpenSolaris operating system with its storage hardware, offering Sun partners a chance to boost their profit margins in licensing and professional services, according to Sun executives.

Sun is trying to accelerate an industry-wide drive to combine storage hardware and software, according to Nigel Dessau, senior vice president of storage marketing and business operations. But it is trying to differentiate itself with OpenSolaris -- an attempt to develop bulletproof products relatively cheaply by working with the open source community.

This is in stark contrast to competitive storage vendors who acquire storage software to create proprietary, closed and expensive software, Dessau said.

"I don't know any other vendor that said it will make its operating system the number one operating system to run storage regardless of where your application is," Dessau said. "[No other vendor] has said it will open source all of its storage software from its operating system, through its file system, through its NAS stack, CIFS stack and through its applications," Dessau said.

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Sun announced in April that it had donated its ZFS file system to the OpenSolaris community, including the recursive snapshot features which help users create snapshots for all descendent file systems. It also contributed its Double Parity RAIDZ, for data protection, and Hot Spares for ZFS Storage Pool Devices, that helps customers protect data on disks after failure has occurred.

Dessau said Sun and its partners can make money in four ways with an OpenSolaris storage strategy:

  • Partners can charge for installing the system into production without paying for service and maintenance.
  • Partners can build around Sun's hardware and offer professional services; the software will run better on Sun's hardware than other vendors' hardware.

  • Sun can turn the system into appliances if people don't want to build it themselves.
  • Sun can license the software to other vendors.

However, not all Sun partners believe this is a good profit-making strategy for Sun or its channel.

One Sun reseller who asked not to be identified, doubts "better" is good enough to be profitable.

"They say the software will run better on their hardware than on other hardware, but margins tend to be tight on hardware and I don't know that I see that Sun has a dramatic intellectual property differentiation to drive margin," the Sun partner said.

"If [the open source software] is free what's the license [for]? The competition can take the open source and do their thing with it. They can license it, but I don't know if there's going to be a lot of revenue there," the reseller said.

"There's a huge services opportunity," Dessau said. "Systems and storage partners [can] go to their customers with a completely new value proposition. These partners can say: 'Let me show you how using this OpenSolaris stack and this open source software can redo the economics of your storage for your SAN, your NAS and your infrastructure in a completely different way.'"

Mixed reaction from Sun partners, analysts

Focusing on OpenSolaris for storage sounds wonderful, but there's a lot of work to be done to make it work, according to Dan Molina, chief technology officer at San Diego, Calif.-based Nth Generation Computing Inc., a StorageTek partner that stuck with Sun after its acquisition of StorageTek.

"These are great ideas, but from there to reality you have to go a thousand miles. I think the OpenSolaris with ZFS file system is good for virtualization capabilities and they have a strong product, but Microsoft Windows 2003 is a very dominant player and the release of Longhorn is going to have a lot of good features for storage; and Linux is gaining ground," Molina said.

Customers that already have a Sun storage gear welcome the OpenSolaris storage strategy, while others have expressed caution, according to Mike Willard, principal partner at Sun reseller Soccour Solutions of Dallas, Texas.

"It's a harder sell for those that don't have Sun technology as part of their [storage infrastructure], and those customers, they are in a wait-and-see pattern," Willard added.

But Willard and Molina are exactly the kind of partners Sun will have to energize if it's going to make the OpenSolaris strategy succeed, according to John Webster, analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc.

"It will work if Sun provides the required feet on the street to make it work," Webster said.

But there are internal issues Sun has to deal with as well, Webster said. There are two storage groups within Sun -- Sun STK continues to support and supply tactical products to the former StorageTek customers.

The other is Sun's corporate group, which wants to propagate Sun Solaris ZFS IP into the market place to differentiate Sun and disrupt its competitors.

The best way to create that disruption, Webster said, is to sell general-purpose storage hardware at a low enough price -- with high enough functionality -- to become ubiquitous.

OpenSolaris "could put a lot of functionality into the market that channel partners could potentially pick up, use in combination with Sun or other kinds of hardware, and Sun could use this as a base to sell storage along with other things," Webster said.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer.

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