Sun Microsystems’ storage strategy is on the rebound. The company’s fortunes in the storage market have always been tied directly to sales of its Unix servers, and in 2001, as its server sales went into freefall, storage system revenues were cut in half to $659 million, according to industry research group Gartner.
But since the closing quarters of that year Sun has taken made some decisive steps. It has
abandoned ambitions to mount a direct challenge with its own technology in the storage high-end against market leader EMC. The Sun StorEdge T3 range, the offspring of the company’s acquisition of disk array technology start-up Maxstrat in 1999, is now billed as a device suitable for a mid-range and workgroup applications.
Instead, since late 2001 Sun has addressed the upper end of the market by rebadging Hitachi Data Systems’ Lightning range as the StorEdge 9900 series. And with some success. According to Sun, in the first nine months of that arrangement it shipped around 500 high-end systems, “mostly at EMC’s expense”.
The company’s own products, however, are much more closely tied to its mid-range servers. And while that has been a tarnished story, researcher at IDC still calculate that when external and internal storage sales are lumped together Sun still ships more terabytes of storage than any other Unix storage supplier.
That is despite a somewhat confused product story. Alongside the T3 and a range of rack-mounted products, since February 2002 the company has been offering the StorEdge 3900 and 6900 lines which incorporate some of the high-end features of its T3 system at a lower point of entry.
The story is also proprietary, with most Sun systems targeted at its Solaris operating system. That approach worked well during dotcom boom when Sun was second only to EMC in Unix storage revenues. But today the company needs a broader agenda to stay in the storage elite.