Sun Microsystems has at last launched its Honeycomb CAS box or disk archive, but with only very limited third-party support for the box.
Officially dubbed the Sun StorageTek 5800 storage system, the device was first publicized by Sun under its code-name Honeycomb almost three years ago, in January 2005.
Now Sun says the device is generally available, and that it has already shipped 400TB to some resellers and early customers, in the education, healthcare and scientific research industries.
Given the size of the systems involved, that total capacity is likely to involve less than a dozen Honeycombs. The server giant named six colleges and a library in North America and the UK to which it said it had shipped Honeycomb systems, but would not say how many paying customers it has won for the system.
The only supplier of mainstream commercial software to have either integrated its products with the Honeycomb or qualified them for use with the Sun storage device is BakBone Software. Outside of the Linux Market, Bakbone has only a small share of the backup market, and the company does not sell any archiving software – which is the application that customers are much more likely to want to connect to a CAS box.
The only other applications that Sun said have been integrated with the Honeycomb are open source archive preservation applications created by Fedora, DSpace, VTLS and ePrints – none of which are volume products – and its own SANQFS archiving tool.
If customers want to link any other applications to the Honeycomb, they must do so through an interface based on the CIFS and NFS file-access protocols. Other CAS boxes also offer such an interface, for exactly the same reason – to provide an easy although slightly less functional way to connect third-party applications to their boxes, without needing those applications to be re-written.
But to use CIFS or NFS on the Honeycomb, customers will have to buy a third-party gateway that will convert file names and addresses to Honeycomb internally-generated object addresses.
And even then, Sun will still be lacking qualifications for mainstream archiving applications from suppliers such as SAP, Symantec and EMC’s Documentum division, or specialist providers of healthcare data management systems. EMC’s website lists around 100 companies that have qualified their software products for use with its Centera box, which dominates the CAS market.
Exactly how important the lack of third-party support will be to Sun remains to be seen. Ovum analyst Carl Greiner said that it will be a major disability that Sun will have to put right. It’s going to stop people buying the box, he said.
One rival CAS supplier speaking off the record was more charitable, and said that although third-party qualification is useful, it is not always essential to close sales. It’s nice to have, but you don’t have to have it, he said.
Sun’s prospects of persuading software suppliers to make the effort to test and qualify their products with Honeycomb will depend on how well they expect Honeycomb to sell, the rival said.
It’s going to depend how much commitment Sun shows to this, and nobody knows yet how serious Sun is about Honeycomb. We all know that IBM, HP, and Nexsan have all getting very serious about competing with Centera, he said.
But said John Considine, director in Sun’s storage systems product group said: We’re not going head-to-head with the other archiving boxes. We’re looking at the evolution of object storage.
Sun’s initial focus on open source applications for the Honeycomb is linked to its overall enthusiasm for open source, and its promise it made at the beginning of the year to make the code running the Honeycomb open source. Last week the company said that it will deliver on this pledge some time in the first half of next year. It did not discuss any details of what the license model will be.
The company argued that the open sourcing of the Honeycomb will diminish customers’ anxiety about the long term storage of archive data for what might be several years, on storage systems that might become obsolete.
But even with a copy of the Honeycomb code at hand, customers will still be faced with the risk of obsolescence of the hardware around which that software was tailored.
Sun is not using the term CAS – or content-addressed storage – to describe the Honeycomb, because that label was invented by EMC. Instead Sun prefers to call the Honeycomb a fixed content or object storage system. But the architecture of the Honeycomb is very similar to that of other CAS boxes. The Honeycomb hashes data contents in order to create a file or object handle, stores meta-data alongside files or objects, scales across multiple nodes, and incorporates automatic mirroring of data and self-healing after disk failures.
Sun argued that Honeycomb differs from EMC’s Centera in the way that it can search meta-data. We’ve incorporated search directly into the box. That drives performance – all the processing is executed in the storage. And as you scale it [Honecomb], you add compute power, said Considine.
One Honeycomb cell of eight or sixteen nodes or controllers with a total capacity of 32TB raw will cost around $245,000, including all software. According to Sun, that price is 20% lower than for an equivalent EMC Centera.
Sun’s passion for all things open source has got in the way of creating a commercially viable product from Honeycomb. If it wants to be sure that it will see a return on the investment it made in developing the Honeycomb, it will have to take a better informed view of what the bulk of customers use $250,000-plus CAS boxes for.