At Sun's Denver Forum there was a fair sprinkling of new product information including - but only in the aptly-named Whisper room and only to customers under NDA - the downsized version of the SL8500 enterprise tape library, code-named Crimson.

But, more of that later.

JBODs

First let's talk about JBODs, just (a) bunch of disks. Sun is going to produce very cheap JBOD drive arrays. They'll come in 2U and 4U rack shelves and be used for cheap and cheerful scalability:-

JBOD 1400
- 2U 12 X 3.5 inch drives
- 2U 24 X 2.5 inch drives

JBOD 1600
- 4U 24 X 3.5 inch drives
- 4U 48 X 2.5 inch drives.

Capacities will be 6TB or 12TB for 500GB 3.5 inch drives. For 750GB, they'll be 9TB and 18TB. The promise is disk capacity at near raw disk prices, not that Sun said that but why else produce this most commodity-like drive shelves unless you aim to undercut the EMC and Netapps of this world and their eye-watering prices for additional capacity. Buy a Sun storage product instead and add capacity via low-cost rack shelves like these.

Virtual tape

The VTL-V gets an extended version, VTL-VE or some similar terminology - VTL-BigV maybe? - adding Falconstor SIR de-dupe. Copan has added it to its MAID Revolution arrays and says it's gaining a reliable 20:1 de-dupe ratio. So look forward to radically increasing the effective capacity of your VTL-V.

A fifth version of the mainframe VSM virtual tape product will be delivered.

Open Solaris

Open Solaris gets a full NAS stack as CIFS is being added to it. That means people can build NAS products using it and compete with NetApp and EMC NAS - remember the JBODS? Open Solaris gets NDMP and failover too, both active:active and active:passive.

Tape drives

StorageTek tape drives and media have a great attribute; you can use old media in new drives and get the media re-formatted so that it gets the new capacity.

So the new 9840D format, loosely known as performance- or access-centric tape because of its mid-reel head parking, gets around double the 9840C capacity at 75+GB. The IO rate is 30MB/sec and customers' existing 9840 media can be used in the new drive. All those 40GB 9840C tape reels can be doubled in capacity to 80GB reels if required.

Similarly, the 500GB T10000 (T10K) gets its second generation, the T10K B, next year. It will more than double capacity up to 1TB plus with a 120MB/sec I/O speed. The capacity increase comes through the use of giant magnetoresistive (GMR) head technology. Existing MPx media can be used and, of course, gets a 100 percent capacity increase if you wish.

There were no commitments from Sun about a further T10K generation but the technology can be used to produce a multi-terabyte reel in the future. Alex North, Sun's group manager for tape drives, said capacity generally doubles every two years while I/O speed increases by around 50 percent in the same time. North said that the T10K family of products will definitely extend past two generations.

So, this is a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what to expect:-

2008
- 9840D at 75+GB and 30MB/sec
- T10K B at 1.2TB and 120MB/sec

2010
- 9840E at 160GB and 45MB/sec
- T10K C at 3TB and 180MB/sec

2012
- 9840F at 320GB and 67MB/sec
- T10K D at 6TB and 270MB/sec

Crimson and mid-range/open systems tape

Sun's North said the company does a tremendous amount of business with the T10K in the open systems space. So that helps make the case for downsizing the SL8500 enterprise-class tape technology into the mid-range stronger.

Crimson is the code name for that product. It will fit between the SL8500 and the SL500. The SL8500 has four 'handbot' robot pickers which operate in parallel and enable the library to do eight things at once. Each handbot can pick cartridges out of thirteen slot rows in the library and four handbots, one above the other, provide the ability to pick cartridges from the full height of this U-shaped library.

Crimson will have a 'tallbot', a picker which travels up and down a vertical bar running the full height of the seven foot rack it occupies. There can be two tallbots for high availability. Naturally Crimson's access time to a randomly located tape will be longer than the SL8500's access time.

Crimson was positioned as the library for a customer to use when they want to grow well past a 200-slot SpectraLogic library say, but for whom the SL8500 is too much. Crimson will be accessed like a SpectraLogic library and won't use ACLS.

Servicing will probably use customer-replacable units (CRUs). Crimson will likely be upgradeable to a full SL8500.

We might loosely think of it as a possible L1400 replacement with 200-1500 slots and one to 40 drives.

Encryption

Jon Benson, Sun's SVP for storage, said at the Forum: "We believe the whole world will go to encryption." A priority in 2008 is delivering he most secure encryption for tape. The T10K is a crypto-ready tape drive. Encryption will be delivered for tape in 2008 along with an open key management product, a crypto key management station that will be heterogeneous across the Sun environment. Its use will require no changes to applications or servers.

The 50,000 feet view

At last the StorageTek operation is fully integrated into Sun's server, system software and networking business. The tape futures look as solid as a rock with both the 9840 and T10K formats having new generations coming and a healthy road map outlook. The Streamline technology is being extended down into the middle market. Sun people even said positive things about using flash memory solid-state disks as a potential way of providing fast caching for the libraries.

The VTL back-end integration with Sun's tape libraries continues to be a strength. Sun's view of the future of drive array-based storage products has been firmed up with JBODs to provide very low-cost capacity expansion and a thick layer of Solaris-based software providing full NAS software capability running on SPARC, AMD or Intel platforms.

It looks good. Forum attendees were pleased and could see the logic of the inclusion of storage into Sun's systems unit. The fact that Jon Benson was strongly in favour of the re-org and also claimed the credit for suggesting it to Schwartz, rang out loud and clear. This alone provide a great boost in credibility.

It was helped by Benson admitting that it might look as if he'd been virtually demoted reporting-wise by changing from a Schwartz direct report to a layer below that. The re-org provides the best future for the storage unit and thus for him. This also spoke volumes to he audience.

Of course the StorageTek customer base attending Forum got a loud, long and strong pro-Solaris message but that, being founded on Sun's renewed and very public commitment to storage, went down okay. You get a feeling that a corner has been turned. Things are on the up and up and this product roadmap indicates that the future for Sun's customers looks good.