Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) may be making headlines with its Open Storage business, but it's also seeing some growth in a much older product line: tape storage.
Sun's data tape business grew 3 percent in the company's first quarter, quite an achievement for a legacy technology in the worst downturn since the Eisenhower Administration. The rest of the data storage market appears to have declined double-digits in the quarter; even EMC (NYSE: EMC) saw a 9 percent sales decline in the quarter, and the rest of Sun's storage business also took a hit.
Another surprise is where the growth in Sun's nearly $1 billion tape storage business is coming from: Mainframe attached storage, which is growing at a double-digit rate for the company, according to Alex North, Sun's group manager of data protection and archive. Tapes, drives, virtual tape, tape automation, disk and software fall within that product line.
"The pendulum swings back and forth between centralization and decentralization, and it's been swinging back to centralization for a while," said North.
Sun's mainframe storage business would likely have faced antitrust issues if the company's proposed merger with IBM (NYSE: IBM) had gone through. Instead, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) will acquire Sun and says it plans to keep Sun's storage business, creating a formidable new player in the data storage industry, even though Oracle's initial interest in Sun was apparently in software.
Sun today announced upgrades to its tape virtualization and tape storage archive product line, and also announced that Fujifilm will be the preferred tape media development partner for the next generation of the Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drives. Sun declined to provide a roadmap for the T10000, other than to say it is "working with Fujifilm to drive new capacity and innovation."
StorageTek Virtual Storage Manager gets triple the capacity in VSM 5, to 90 terabytes, and new connectivity options like ESCON and native IP replication. Sun also unveiled VSM 5e, an entry-level version for disaster recovery and test sites.
The new Sun StorageTek SL3000 Access Expansion Module (AEM) supports round-the-clock availability, with fully redundant and replaceable robotics and bulk load and unload capabilities. And StorageTek Enterprise Library software (ELS) ties it all together.
Sun says its tape virtualization offering can save users a bundle over traditional storage offerings, and the StorageTek tape solutions also boast solid reliability and data integrity. The T10000b claims a bit error rate that is orders of magnitude better than LTO tape and hard disk drives, and Sun has addressed tape wind issues by locking the hub when the cartridge is out of the drive to protect the edges of the tape, among other features designed to enhance stability.
Tom Wultich, Sun's group manager of tape, said Sun achieves its bit error rate in part by employing 32 channels instead of 16, so it takes fewer passes and lower speeds to fill the tape. Or as North put it, "If you drive slower, you're going to have fewer accidents."
Sun's tape business may not be growing very fast, but it's managed to provide the company with a steady source of revenue in tough times.
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