My colleague asked me to attend a roundtable briefing at SUN Microsystems’ Hong Kong office on 3 December. Having worked at a storage vendor myself years ago, in a marketing role no less, I am learned in the ways of whitewashing stories to the point where they sit between science fiction and magic. And identifying which is what is just as challenging.

SUN’s Open Storage strategy promises to significantly drive down the cost of current generations of proprietary storage solutions from vendors like HP, IBM, EMC, Fujitsu, Dell, HDS and SUN (yes, SUN also has proprietary offerings) by (1) using commodity components where possible; and (2) giving away much of the base software that is the intelligence behind expensive but proprietary storage systems, Sun hopes to enterprises to consider the potential benefits that lower acquisition cost brings with open source storage.

Storage back to basics

Most enterprise and mid-market storage systems use proprietary software – embedded on the hardware and add-on software to adhere to a particular service level. While certain hardware components are roughly the same – hard disks, fans, frame or chassis – the software is what gives each storage system its unique personalities. It is this ‘personality’ which gives you the five 9s or auto-failover or ability to call home when the device thinks its sick and other fancy termed features.

The Open Storage Strategy promise and caveat

The Open Storage Strategy says you don’t need to buy expensive components. You can buy commodity components and build a storage system with Open Solaris (in Sun’s case) as the core intelligence to deliver many of the features found in proprietary solutions?

The caveat? From a technology perspective, performance may be slightly compromised. This is why Sun’s storage marketing is having a hard time finding suitable third party benchmark reports to back their claims of better performance. They may be able to claim better pricing but performance is another issue.

Is Sun saying you can build your own storage hardware system and slap the Sun OpenSolaris OS on it (which includes many of the features for managing storage) and you have an intelligent storage system on your hands? I raised this hypothetical scenario to the Sun marketing guy during the press conference?

Supposed I bought the basic Sun Open Storage offering – 7110 – but instead of buying all the drives from Sun, I elected to buy from Sun only two of the 14 drives that come with the box. Then I go to the local computer mall and buy 12 comparable drives – same spec as those that came with the box. What happens to the Sun warranty on the solution? Most vendors do not allow you to buy parts for their proprietary storage systems from non-authorized channel. Doing so automatically voids the warranty.

On a side note, way back before EMC launched their new DMX family of storage systems around the period when HDS launched their new storage systems using switched architecture, EMC changed tactic from best performance to ‘good enough’. In a way Sun will have to rely on the same marketing strategy. Not every business needs five 9s. Not everyone will need super fast, super cutting-edge technologies. A lot of businesses can live with ‘good enough’. And certainly from that perspective Sun might be able to win some customers over to their camp – those who are adventurous and don’t have regulators or competition breathing down their throats.

Other stories on Open Storage:

* Just a casual observation. Vendors love to use code names for new projects. Most times the code names never step out into the limelight and are replaced with proper product names. But recently some vendors have started to make known the code names for their new product offerings. I was told that Hiwashi, Fugu and Toro kinds of fish now part of the Japanese sushi culture.