In all the hoopla over Oracle Corp.'s planned $7.4 billion buyout of Sun Microsystems, little mention has been made of Pillar Data Systems, a separate storage company founded by Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison.
But San Jose-based Pillar could end up getting a sweet and not-so-unforeseen piece of the data centre pie that results from the marriage of Oracle and Sun.
Pillar sells a modular storage array called the Pillar Axiom. Based on commodity hardware, the Axiom acts as an application-aware storage-area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) server all under a single management interface. The software used to manage the array automatically allocates CPU, cache and storage capacity separately to applications as they need additional resources.
Ellison launched Pillar in 2005 after four years of development and $150 million from his investment firm, Tako Ventures. Ellison positioned Pillar as a legally separate business to Oracle aimed at competing with storage heavyweights such as IBM, EMC and Hewlett-Packard.
With the proposed Sun takeover, Oracle gains the hardware side of the data centre that it has been looking for to compete against IBM, HP and others systems bigwigs.
According to Bob Mannes, vice president of worldwide marketing and channel sales for Pillar, it's likely that Oracle will see the benefits of a deal to resell Pillar's products through its Sun hardware arm once the deal is completed, though he's not been told anything officially.
Currently, Sun high-end storage systems consist of rebranded Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) arrays, while its low-end systems are from LSI Logic. Sun also bought out tape library and disk subsystem manufacturer StorageTek, but has done very little with the company. The only storage array Sun manufactures is its midrange Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System, which Mannes says does not compete with the more sophisticated technology from Pillar.
Mannes believes Oracle will no longer see a need to continue the reseller agreement with HDS, once the merger goes through.
"Larry has made it clear he's going after the server market, and storage is a part of that. Larry is not going to take that [HDS] deal with him [when the merger closes]," Mannes said.
"We're excited about the ... opportunities of the whole Oracle-Sun deal. We'll have an opportunity to participate in that data centre stack. We have better products than Sun. We will have a go-to market outlet that we didn't have prior to this.
"Larry knows how to monetise technology," he added.
Mark Peters, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, based in Milford, Mass., agreed that cozying up to Pillar as a reseller -- or even as an outright acquisition -- would be smart for Oracle. But he also noted that Oracle will need to be careful about adding further angst for existing Sun storage customers.
"You can see the logic in having storage as part of Oracle product package, not just because of what Larry and Oracle [have] already done in terms of hardware, but it's not a big leap if you're talking about applications to have the hardware to go along with it," Peters said.
Peters compared the possibility of Oracle either penning a reseller agreement with Pillar or buying it with an overall industry trend of large systems companies scooping up smaller storage hardware and software providers. For example, he pointed to Hewlett-Packard's proposed purchase of clustered NAS vendor IBRIX and Dell's purchase of iSCSI storage vendor EqualLogic.
"Pillar is doing reasonably well now -- they have some avid customers and industry supporters and good technology. But if they become part of an OSP (Oracle-Sun-Pillar) conglomerate, that gives them and their tech a lot more access to buyers," Peters said. "And, I'm sure Oracle would like to rule the world, as would the other big players."
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