In what is becoming a prolonged tease Sun did not announce Honeycomb at its May 2nd storage-focused quarterly announcement. It did demo it though. Sun also did not announce its Virtual Storage Manager for open systems - a virtual tape product - nor did it say much about grid storage or de-duping data. It did announce a new NAS box and upgrades to its mainframe virtual tape product but the Honeycomb hive is not about to open just yet. Apparently it will arrive within the next few quarters. That suggests it is far from ready and could be 12 to 18 months away.

StorageTek is set to replace StorEdge as Sun's storage brand name. However, apart from that decision, it appears that it is taking a long time to integrate the Sun and StorageTek products and strategy.

A strong component of its storage strategy is to virtualise everything, from tape to disk to block. However NAS virtualisation was absent from this lineup. In the Sun virtualisation vision the entire storage infrastructure will appear as a single data environment controlled from a consistent virtual front end. The aim is to reduce management complexity, improve data access and reduce customer costs.

This presages an energetic development program for Sun's storage management product, Enterprise Storage Manager.

StorageTek 5320 NAS
This looks to be a strong upgrade of the previous 5000 appliance family product. It adds 64-bit AMD Opteron processors delivering a 55 percent performance hike. Sun has also added iSCSI support meaning the 5320 can deliver both block and SAN data. This is the NetApp way of getting into the IP SAN business. The 5320 can also be a NAS gateway layered onto Sun's drive arrays and controllers: the 6130 and 6920, the FlexLine arrays and the 99XX high-end arrays. It also comes with WORM (Write Once Read Many) support and built-in anti-virus functionality.

Customers can try the 5320 for up to sixty days and then buy it if they wish. The 5320 is priced from $49,990 for a 2TB box.

Virtual tape
two new versions of VSM, the old StorageTek's Virtual Storage Manager, were announced. VSM is a virtual tape system for mainframes. Sun's mission is, it said, to virtualise everything. However Windows, Solaris, Unix and Linux users will have to wait a while. VSM 5 doubles the capacity and performance of the previous generation of this medium to large mainframe VTL system. VSM 4e is a new entry-level version for smaller mainframe environments.

Up to 256 VSM products can be managed from a single point. VSM 5 and 4e will be available within three months.

Identity management
Identity management features have been added to Sun's ESM - Enterprise Storage Manager - product. The company said that, via its Sun Java System Identity Manager software it will help manage identity profiles and permissions throughout the entire identity lifecycle.

Sun's Java System Access Manager is also integrated into the ESM portfolio to improve data access and improve data integrity.

Tape drive encryption
Sun is going to add encryption facilities to its tape drive line. This matches what the LTO Consortium and IBM are doing. IT relates to yesterday's Iron Mountain lost tape story.

Sun is also adding storage services such as managed operations for storage and a customer storage benchmarking exercise called the Information Maturity Model Workshop.

Zettabyte File System
Sun will add the 128-bit Zettabyte file system (ZFS) to Solaris 10. It was supposed to arrive in June, 2005. Sun is talking up ZFS saying it's capable of storing 16 billion times more data than current file systems. ZFS is said to automate common storage admin tasks, better protect data from corruption and provide virtually unlimited scalability. It automatically detects and corrects accidental data corruption and eliminates the need for volume management.

The increase in data integrity comes from the use of checksums and a transactional copy-on-write mechanism. If one side of a mirror is damaged by an accidental over-write then ZFS will detect it, repair it and recover with no interruption in storage service.

ZFS also provides its own virtual memory management, eliminating the need for a separate volume manager. The system can also take instantaneous snapshots at any point in time, providing a form of continuous data protection (CDP). It is said to be designed for faster I/O operations as well, re-forming random I/O into faster sequential I/O for example.

Sun says storage system admin tasks currently taking forty minutes or more will take seconds. This will be a large increase in storage sysadm productivity.

These ZFS concepts prompt me to think that ZFS will be a great technology to add to an extremely clever storage controller like an enhanced 6920, or to a developed Honeycomb box. It seems a good foundation for a storage utility operating system rather than being used only as an (application) server operating system's file system.

With a code name reminiscent of the worm-attracting device from the Dune Sci-fi book, project Thumper is another rumoured Sun storage wonder. It first surfaced back in 2004 as an Opteron-based storage development for storing non-mission critical business data and non-database transaction data. That leaves an awful lot of semi-structured (e-mail), unstructured information, and archive information as its possible target, also media files such as video or medical images.

Unlike Honeycomb it has moderate processing power but a large amount of I/O capability. It is possible that the Zettabyte File System (see below) is part of this project. One source, The Register, suggests an I/O performance of 2.3GB - yes bytes - a second.

It is mentioned in a March 2006 Sun Library of The Future presentation as being part of a digital library architecture and also as being in beta test, as is Honeycomb.

All in all
Stepping back from the detail it seems clear that it is taking a longer time than might have been hoped for to integrate the Sun and StorageTek storage product lines inside an agreed storage and system strategy. The storage strategy has to fit alonside Sun's overall server system strategy. Storage developments, such as continuous data protection, as affected by system-located (Solaris 10) file system technologies like ZFS.

This was then, a low-hanging fruit day. The engineering challenges in producing a VSM for Windows and Unix are still strong. Sun customers can still buy Centera with no competition from Sun's Honeycomb project for a few quarters yet. There is a marker laid down to enter the IP SAN business and real nods made to security with the identity management moves. The fancy new file system is pretty blue sky but looks a great fit for looming needs.

All in all though the whole affair is not that compelling. I mean it is impressive and a fantastic amount of work has been done but there is an air of delayed gratification about it.

Much has been done, a great deal in fact. But more needs to be done. Sun gets high marks for concepts and vision but, some would say, lower marks for execution. Once again, the promised brilliantly bright Sun/StorageTek future is a little way off.