Techworld talked to Mark Canepa, Sun's executive VP for networked storage products. We began by asking about content and content addressable storage. This was in reference to Sun's Content Infrastructure System which combines Information Life-cycle Management (ILM), fast and slow disk and tape storage in a single rack. Applications using it see a single logical storage space with the ILM software placing data on the appropriate storage platform according to settable policies.

It is a distinctive product as it ties an ILM function to fixed content storage in an almost appliance-like approach. Other companies, such as Archivas, EMC, Permabit and StorageTek, have taken a content-addressing (CAS) approach and not integrated ILM in as Sun has done. What is Sun's take on the content area?

Mark Canepa said: "There is a $14 billion content information market, about a quarter of the entire storage market. We address about a $10 billion chunk of this. It's not super compliance-intensive."

Regarding CAS directly: "What is the relationship between applications and the storage system? At Sun we call it storage services. It relates to applications at a higher level than blocks or files. We have efforts going on to store and move data presented as a content reference. Honeycomb relates to this. It started out in Sun Labs and has now moved to the Networked Storage organisation."

Storage IQ to rise exponentially
"This is part of an overall effort. Over time the amount of computational capability engineered into storage systems will go up exponentially. More burdens are being placed on storage - snapshot, volume management, replication, etc. Most storage systems have a couple of CPUs that are under-powered."

"We build storage products on a systems model, not just a storage model. Storage is an inherently threadable problem. With SPARC and Niagara technology we can have 32 threads and up to 8 cores on a single chip. It allows us to build far more computational ability into storage. Solaris, the most threaded O/S in the world, can use all these threads."

This means we can expect to see Sun storage gear fitted with an embedded Niagara system running Solaris giving storage applications a tremndous amount of compute resource. Canepa said: "By embedding Solaris and Niagara in a storage system we can provide a richness of data services via SAN/IP SAN to applications."

Take search: "Why move terabytes of data to a server for it to search for one item. Why not move the search to the storage? This plays to the strength of a systems company."

Storage IQ location
Where should storage intelligence be located? In the fabric - witness the latest Cisco/EMC demonstration - or at the back-end in the storage devices?

Canepa said: "We've built our storage systems and services so that no matter where the game ends up we cn be incredibly effective. On the server or, via Pirus technology, on an ntelligent network device. Today we've put it in the back-end of the fabric, because it's the simplest place. We're being very pragmatic. (Putting it in the fabric means) you've doubled your network administration problem. The vast majority of implementations of data services will be back-end driven over the next couple of years."

What about Sun support of iSCSI?

"With Solaris 10 we have built a full iSCSI initiator into the O/S, the Leadville Traffic Manager. We have done a lot of work on the initiator technology and have a load-balancing fail-over driver right in the O/S. It's saving customers a whole lot of money."

"On the target side it's in the next 90-100 day roadmap for the 5000 (NAS) family. The hardware capability is all there. There's going to be a continual stream of software releases to augment this technology."

NAS blades and heads
Sun has a NAS blade but not for its 9900 array. It is under test for that. Canepa discussed NAS head technology, where a block-based SAN store feeds blocks to a NAS device which presents them as shared files.

"NAS head technology has its place. Class 1 is where the customer needs lots of file storage for its lots of servers. An integrated NAS device is the cheapest way to go, like our 5210 and 5310 products. Simplicity is what the customer is looking for."

"Class 2 is where the customer has a big SAN and needs to field files occasionally. Putting a blade or gateway in front of block storage is a great way of doing it. With NAS blades our short-term strategy is the 9900 family. Over the longer term, look at the 5310. It's technology lends itself to presenting a head-only version of the product. Watch this space for a head-only NAS gateway-like product."

Sun's concern, as a systems company, according to Canepa, is to put end-to-end capabilities together. It wants to leverage its Solaris 10 O/S and the coming (2006) Niagara SPARC chip to produce stunning capabilities from its storage service platforms, such as a content-addressable storage system and, no doubt, a storage utility service system.

In the meantime we can expect to see iSCSI target storage devices based on the 5000 product family emerge as well as a NAS head. Sun's storage is already fast. We can expect it to get both faster and much richer in the scope of the storage services it offers.