Bypass and disrupt
Sun's disk storage strategy
Take EMC's Centera, which Sun people like Gail Truman, a senior product line manager at Sun, say is a first generation product, can be undercut in price, out performed by commodity hardware and system software by Honeycomb, a third generation product with intelligence incorporated directly with the storage.
Take NetApp NAS and FC/iSCSI SAN products; these can be out-performed at a much lower cost by X4500-based products. ZFS provides a global name space and obviates the need for any RAID controller kit. The Lustre acquisition means clustered X4500s will be able to provide Isilon and NetApp ONTAP GX-class clustering.
That lawsuit; put up or shut up
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz characterised NetApp's business model as proprietary software running on white boxes (arrays and server/controllers) with 70 percent gross margin. What's implicit in the Sun storage strategy is that NetApp will face tremendous disruption to its product strategy if Sun storage sales into the NetApp heartland ramp up.
Schwartz says the Thumper NAS is a third of the price of the near-equivalent NetApp product.
Sun people seem quietly convinced that this is what lies behind the NetApp IP infringement lawsuit against Sun. Sun was burned a few years ago and paid $100 million to Kodak in an IP infringement case. It is determined not to do this again, but, because ZFS is so central to its strategy, it is going to fight NetApp's case. Schartz said Sun had asked NetApp to reveal the infringed code but: "it hasn't done that." Then, in a quiet but quite distinct threat, he said: "We have 15,000 patents dealing with the Internet. That might be a risk to NetApp." In other words, put up or shut up and back off.
Bypass and then disrupt
What NetApp, EMC and other Sun storage competitors are seeing is Sun stepping back from focusing on initial product-for-product competition. It has by-passed this in the existing SAN and NAS markets and is maintaining a presence, a good presence, with products OEM'd from Engenio and HDS. But simultaneously Sun is preparing its own products, disruptive ones with lower costs and higher performance, built from commodity hardware and open source Solaris-based software stacks, that intentionally threaten to profoundly disrupt these competitors' business in the new and vast emerging market for storing relatively unstructured data.
Then, using these new products as a base on which to layer additional personalities, it is returning to the existing storage markets, NAS and VTL at first, and aiming to undercut and out-perform its competitors with a vast army of developers building products customers really want from these new integrated storage platforms.
That's the theory; bypass and then disrupt. Will it work?
Straws in the wind: IBM is to support Solaris; Microsoft and IBM are cross-supporting each other's products in the server virtualisation space; NetApp is suing Sun. Three very very large IT vendors reacting to Sun in their different ways and seeing impressive potential there; potential for good and potential for disruption. Sun is now full of promise for some and threat for others. Some it will thump, they fear, and others will earn golden honey from its hive of innovation. That's what Sun hopes, that innovation will feed its bottom line. We'll see.