Sun Downsizes N1 Grid Computing Plan

Sun does an about-face on its promise to deliver its N1 Grid on multiple hardware platforms simultaneously, instead debuting it on its own hardware first.

Sun Microsystems Inc. has again scaled back its once-grand plans for its N1 Grid utility computing initiative, while at the same time doing an about-face on its promise to deliver N1 Grid and associated services on multiple hardware platforms simultaneously.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company will now release N1 Grid first on its own hardware and then roll it out to other platforms over time.

John Loiacono, Suns executive vice president for software, confirmed Sun has changed its N1 Grid implementation plan dramatically, saying those changes will become visible in the next few months when Sun releases a refreshed version that focuses on a more practical approach to dealing with how multiplatform services are provisioned.

/zimages/2/28571.gifSun has said it wants to become a dominant low-cost provider of grid computing services. Click here to read more.

"We will focus first on the Sun platform from a hardware perspective," Loiacono said. "Our initial hope was that N1 would solve all sorts of problems in a multiplatform world, but we are now pulling back to something that is far more practical than that. The advent of utility computing and what we are doing in the grid space come right into play with this new vision."

Suns N1 Grid competes with IBMs on-demand technology and Hewlett-Packard Co.s Adaptive Enterprise, as well as with technology from Veritas Software Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Computer Associates International Inc.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs on-demand computing strategy.

Under the utility computing model, hardware adjusts automatically to allow computing tasks to be accomplished within a set time, requiring a computing infrastructure that is flexible and where hardware can be quickly reconfigured to meet changing business needs.

James Dobson, a systems architect at Dartmouth College, of Hanover, N.H., which has a large grid computing project, is not surprised by Suns move. "I had some doubts about any vendors doing true heterogeneous systems management. N1 Grid as a distributed computing platform is a great idea. Systems management, however, is very different."

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H., said the grand vision of N1 Grid that Sun once espoused has essentially evaporated. "There seemed to be a lot of tumult at Sun as to what N1 is and should be," Eunice said. "This latest downsizing is a major shift by Sun toward just managing their gear, and it is a much smaller vision for N1. But that is a far more realistic view."

Sun and others in the industry have taken on a lot with their sweeping vision of solving the complexities around data automation, policies and autonomic computing, Eunice said.

The basic concept and philosophy behind Suns N1 Grid vision is that the network is the resource that will make computing flexible and easily connected. Sun planned to add the management and coordination software so that everything could be coordinated closely around the network, Eunice said.

"Trying to solve this for Windows, Linux, Cisco [Systems Inc.] routers, as well as for IBM and Dell and other servers, is just not a very attractive prospect for a company like Sun that needs to sell its own servers," Eunice said.

Loiacono believes the whole industry is to blame for the high expectations that were set.

/zimages/2/28571.gifEnterprises are seeking direction on utility computing. Click here to read more.

"Yes, I promised something other than what we will initially deliver. Was it overhyped? Yes. Was I one of the overhypers? Probably, but so was everyone else," he said. The reality that can now be delivered on is real code that solves real problems, Loiacono said.

"You will see a greater push out of Sun and more talk about something we refer to internally as CNS, or the Customer Network Systems group, which is becoming a big motivator for how we do things at Sun," Loiacono said. "CNS essentially will see every component technology at Sun, from the server to the operating system to a Java virtual machine running on a handset, able to connect back to Sun.

"I want to be able to feed information to it and get information back from it, in the sense that I am looking for enough telemetry to service, provision and patch the product if the customer wants me to or allows me to. Customers will obviously be able to opt out," Loiacono said.

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