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SNW '04: Sun shines on the midrange market again

An OEM deal with Engenio should get Sun back into the midrange market, but its product strategy remains hazy.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sun Microsystems Inc. has rekindled its relationship with Engenio Information Technologies Inc., announcing an OEM deal that it hopes will prevent Sun users from looking elsewhere for midrange storage systems.

But they would be forgiven for doing so, analysts say, as Sun's strategy has been as clear as mud in this marketplace. From 1997 to 2000, the company sold the A3500, a SCSI-to-SCSI midrange array built by Engenio. It scrapped this product for the T3, picked up through the acquisition of Maxstrat Corp., but this system was mired in technical problems and eventually replaced last year with the 6120.

When you look across [Sun's] product line, its unclear what's going on.

John McArthur
Group director of storageInternational Data Corp.

Under the new deal with Engenio, Sun will replace the 6120 with Engenio's 2882 midrange controller, in its new 6130 array. "Think of it as the baby brother to the 6920," said James Whitemore, senior director, network storage marketing at Sun. The 6920 is the storage array that includes the virtualization switch Sun picked up through the acquisition of Pirus Networks Inc.

The 2882 is the same controller that IBM uses in its FAStT 600 midrange array. Big Blue claims it has shipped close to 30,000 FAStT units and experienced a 27% year-over-year growth in FAStT sales. StorageTek Corp. and SGI also OEM the same controller from Engenio.

"It offers great performance for the price," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with research firm the Taneja Group. Sustained I/O from Fibre Channel drives is 25,000 I/O per second; from SATA drives, it's around 10,000 I/O per second. It provides a dual controller architecture that scales from a mirrored pair up to 112 disk drives and users can mix Fibre Channel and SATA drives in the same system for tiered storage applications. Asynchronous mirroring extends the distance that data can be replicated between sites and a write-order-consistency feature ensures data mirrored to a secondary site is written in the same order that it resides on the primary site.

Sun seems to have stumbled upon a good product, but its OEM deal with Engenio isn't surprising, as it adds to a list of vendors the company is relying upon to make up its storage portfolio. Sun already taps Hitachi Data Systems for high-end storage, Dot Hill for low-end and Procom for NAS.

John McArthur, group director of storage at International Data Corp., noted that Sun's strategy gets more confusing when you look at what it's trying to do in the area of virtualization. At the high end, it resells HDS' new TagmaStore array, which provides controller-based virtualization. But then it also sells the 6920, which is a switch inside a storage array that also provides virtualization. "When you look across the product line, its unclear what's going on," McArthur said.

The 6130 starts at $46,000 and is available immediately.

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