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Money from honey: Sun's secret honeycomb

A supercharged NAS box is on the way

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Sun has a secret NAS project using 64-bit Opterons and densely packed drive arrays. It is looking to add a massive amount of Mips (million instructions per second) to its storage boxes to provide better and faster storage applications to serve, store and protect data.

Its latest StorEdge 5310 NAS appliance uses a single Xeon CPU and can scale to 65TB of FC storage or 179TB of SATA capacity via 28 expansion units. The Honeycomb project, however, reportedly has four Opteron blades mounted on a mid-plane with 16 drives at the rear of the 3U rack shelf unit. Each blade would have two gigabit Ethernet links to the outside world.

This has a huge amount of additional processing power compared to the 5310. Such power could be bought to bear on serving block-based storage, on virtualisation and on a 64-bit file system, such as Sun's SAM FS, even on to a storage grid.

Sun's Opteron-focussed design efforts were boosted when the company bought Kealia in February. It was a start-up designing Opteron-based servers that employed Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, the man who hired current Sun boss Scott McNealy. Sun currently sells V40z 4-way Opteron servers.

AMD's Opteron is a 64-bit processor that can run 32-bit code. It is generally reckoned to out-perform Intel chips except in floating point mathematical operations. Dual-core Opterons are eagerly awaited by Sun. John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's network systems group, said: "Sun is committed to delivering the best x86 systems for 32-bit and 64-bit computing and... with the great promise of the forthcoming dual-core processors from AMD, I'm confident we will continue to outpace the competition."

A single Honeycomb won't have that much storage: sixteen 250GB drives offers 4TB. A rack of 14 of the 3U units would offer 56TB and they would need to have high-speed interconnections. In a recent announcement, Sun and Topspin said they will offer integrated utility computing systems that include Topspin's intelligent fabric products and Sun's AMD Opteron-based systems. Servers can be linked together into high performance grids with a virtualised network, storage connectivity and applications provisioned on demand.

In 2002, Sun acquired a storage switching and virtualisation technology company called Pirus. Little has been heard since. At the time Mark Canepa, executive vice president, network storage, Sun Microsystems, said: "We are thrilled to be integrating the Pirus team and technologies into our organisation and leading storage offerings... Virtualisation is a critical component of Sun's N1 strategy."

Pirus technology is now emerging. Sun's StorEdge 6920 drive array, designed to compete with EMC's Clariion CX700 and IBM's FAStT900 scales to 65TB - the same as the 5310. It features Pirus technology such as a volume manager, point-in-time copy capabilities and advanced zoning capabilities.

Put Pirus technology, Topspin Infiniband links, Bechtolsheim's Opteron expertise and the Honeycomb boxes together and a super-charged NAS system could emerge.

Sun has not made as much money from storage products as it has from servers from its customers. This has allowed competitors such as EMC to take storage revenue share from it. The company is determined to change that and sees an integrated set of storage products as the way to do it.

Canepa said: "We intend to aggressively attack the multi-billion dollar storage market." You can't get much clearer than that.




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