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Saving Sun

The current poll on <i>InformationWeek</i>'s sister site <a href="http://www.byteandswitch.com/survey.asp?doc_id=153196">Byte and Switch</a>, "Sun Down," paints a very bleak outlook for <a href="http://www.sun.com">Sun storage</a>. The final question, "Do you think they should exit the storage hardware business?" has a surprising 57% say that it should. Can Sun save itself? Probably not, but I can ...

George Crump

May 14, 2008

3 Min Read

The current poll on InformationWeek's sister site Byte and Switch, "Sun Down," paints a very bleak outlook for Sun storage. The final question, "Do you think they should exit the storage hardware business?" has a surprising 57% say that it should. Can Sun save itself? Probably not, but I can ...Priority No. 1 at Sun storage is to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. I see three choices here. First, it can get back to innovation and create great products. Second, it can decide not to innovate but leverage its vast sales and engineering organization; or, third, it can as the survey suggests, exit the storage space.

Innovation is hard. I struggle coming up with a few hundred words every day, let alone creating a great product that people will buy. Certainly Sun storage has tried to innovate in the past -- products like the T3 and others come to mind. To be a successful innovator, Sun has to FOCUS and be an innovator, no more hedging its bets. It can't carry its own internally created products, products that it OEM's (LSI and Hitachi) and products that it has purchased but not integrated well (Procomm NAS). If it is going to innovate, than it has to cut bait with everything else and get committed.

I know that Sun storage has its common management interface, but all of these products run on different operating systems, and putting a fancy front end on them doesn't help much.

This means selling off the tape portion of StorageTek. You can't do both. Despite popular opinion that disk-to-disk is going to kill tape, we still need a great tape library company and StorageTek was always one of the best. But do that new company a favor and make sure it will only sell tape. Focus goes both ways. When you do this, have the new STK CEO call me -- I have a great "disk is dead" strategy, too.

The second choice, leverage Sun's vast sales and engineering network. To a large extent, that is what Sun does now with the mix of OEM's that it has. I would suggest that Sun listen to the same advice it gives its channel -- commit to selling one platform. Pick something and know it well. Customers have enough choices; they don't need multiple choices from the same vendor. Then create OEM relationships that make sense. It is almost comical to watch Hitachi and Sun with their data center disk systems compete for the same business with the exact same product and try to claim that their piece of hardware is better.

The final choice is to get out of storage all together. Honestly, that would be a tragedy. If Sun doesn't make the hard choice of option one or two, it may be the only viable one, albeit ugly. If Sun decided that it was going to get back to focusing just on servers or just on OSes, then storage would have to go anyway.

The point is that what Sun is doing right now, playing it safe, isn't working. Trying to be all things to all companies rarely works. Personally, I hope that Sun chooses option one. There are still plenty of areas where storage hardware can be improved. Innovation, no matter whom it comes from, is always a good thing and we can always use more of it.

George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

About the Author(s)

George Crump

President, Storage Switzerland

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one the nation’s largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection. George is responsible for the storage blog on InformationWeek's website and is a regular contributor to publications such as Byte and Switch, SearchStorage, eWeek, SearchServerVirtualizaiton, and SearchDataBackup.

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