Sun is hatching a plan it hopes will literally disintegrate the storage industry by removing the value that comes from integrating software and hardware into storage appliances.
Joe Heel, Senior Vice President of Sun's Global Storage Practice told TechTarget ANZ that: "In general computing, value stack has unbundled the different pieces of computing like the CPU, the operating system and applications. This has commoditised some components and elevated the important of the operating system."
"In storage this has not happened," leaving storage dominated by business models Heel likened to computing businesses from the mainframe era in which vendors provided all of the technology in their products. That dominance was famously undone as minicomputers and eventually PC-based systems mixed and matched components from different sources, a trend that gave rise to the Wintel hegemony.
Sun believes that today, the likes of EMC and NetApp are similar to mainframe providers and therefore susceptible to a new approach.
"In storage we want to drive this unbundling," Heel said. "The intent is 'de-mainframising' of storage."
The company's first attempt at this project so will be an open source network attached storage (NAS) device due in early 2008.
"We will use an open source operating system and file system and customers will be able to buy various controllers to drive it all."
Sun will sell the product as a solution or make various components available for sale. Much of the software will be open source, with Sun hoping to generate revenue through support services.
"Our intent is to capture customers today buying from NetApp," Heel said. "Customers tell us they want a cheaper product than the proprietary solutions of today and in time we will pursue other areas including the storage area network."
Heel believes the strategy can succeed because "neither EMC nor NetApp have an operating system or a file system," two assets Sun has courtesy of its Solaris operating system.
Re-organisation to help strategy
Heel admits, however, that while the new strategy looks good on paper, Sun has not executed well in storage of late. Indeed, since acquiring StorageTek Sun's overall storage sales have fallen.
Heel says the company has identified the reasons for the dip, one of which was a failure to successfully merge Sun's direct sales force and StorageTek's indirect channel.
"Part of my responsibility is to try and correct some of those situations we have gotten ourselves into," says Heel, who is a recent appointment to the storage division.
One of those responses is the new strategy outlined above. Another is a complete refresh of the company's product line, with new versions of the 2500-series low end disk arrays and the 1400-and-1700-series tape libraries.
The company's storver strategy is also a big part of future plans, with more hybrid server/storage devices planned as a way for the company to differentiate its storage business.
"We will build more solution capability for vertical customers," Heel said, citing disaster recovery and archiving as markets the company would consider and "pursue when relevant to industries like healthcare."