Sun Grid Takes Shape

N1 system shows impressive capabilities.

Handling application complexity is a growing challenge for todays enterprise data centers. Large corporations core business services run on multitiered server farms comprising Web servers, application servers and databases. Many of these farms support heterogeneous platforms and a wide variety of applications. Further complicating things are custom in-house applications that employ standards running the gamut from Java to ASP, JSP, COM/COM+ and .Net.

Systems management vendors are therefore seeking technologies that will add application provisioning to their portfolios. For example, IBM acquired Opsware Inc.s application management platform last year, and Hewlett-Packard Co. recently acquired Novadigm Inc.

Likewise, Sun Microsystems Inc.s recently released N1 Grid SPS (Service Provisioning System) 4.1 is built on technology obtained from CenterRun Inc. The N1 Grid SPS is designed to automate application configuration and deployment chores in enterprise data centers.

At an exclusive demonstration at Suns Executive Briefing Center in Menlo Park, Calif., last month, eWEEK Labs got an early look at the N1 Grid SPS 4.1s impressive core capabilities. Although the system is in its infancy, we believe the N1 grid framework will be a solid choice that IT managers at large enterprises can harness to effectively tackle application automation and configuration tasks.

The N1 Grid SPS package includes features for comprehensive application management, including automated provisioning, predeployment modeling, configuration comparison analysis, version control, and concise logging and reporting. The N1 Grid SPS was released last month. Pricing starts at $1,800 per managed server.

The acquisition of CenterRun last summer enabled Sun to add application provisioning capabilities to its N1 portfolio by leveraging Suns server-provisioning platform, the N1 Provisioning Server. Specifically, Sun taps CenterRun technology to automate deployment and configuration of applications, patches and updates in network environments.

Suns N1 portfolio covers enterprise application management

  • N1 Grid SPS 4.1 Provides automated application deployment, configuration and updates, as well as increasing application life cycles by reducing configuration errors; reduces complexity and repetitive tasks; released last month; priced at $1,800 per managed server
  • N1 Grid Provisioning Server 3.1 Blades Edition Server provisioning tool for blade systems; Web-based design provides drag-and-drop server provisioning without changing physical configurations; released last month; priced at $3,136 to manage a single Sun Fire B1600 chassis with up to 16 blade servers
  • N1 Grid Engine 5.3 A distributed software/hardware resource management solution that is available for free download; Version 5.3 gains support for Solaris x86 and Linux x86 platforms (it supported only SPARC platforms before) and additional languages in documentation and localized message catalogs; released last month; free download
  • N1 Data Platform Components manage and virtualize storage pools and allow flexible, on-demand allocation of storage assets without the need to reconfigure storage systems; various release dates and prices

The N1 Grid SPS 4.1 uses a distributed architecture where a master server stores the component models (application-specific information stores) and workflow engines in a secure database. A master server can be a Solaris, Windows or Linux system using remote agents to control a variety of host systems. Current hosts supported include Solaris, Windows, Linux and AIX systems. A centralized console (either a Web-based user interface or a command-line interface) is used by administrators to run operation commands and configuration analysis.

Application awareness is important to a robust application provisioning system. Accordingly, the N1 Grid SPS 4.1 treats each application as a component rather than a group of files and directories. The component models store characteristics and information about the applications, which enables the N1 Grid SPS 4.1 to install and remove applications, configure application settings, control components through administration interfaces, and analyze and compare components with other applications.

Once the proper components have been created and configured for deployment, the N1 Grid SPS performs a predeployment check for configuration errors, then simulates a real deployment. These simulations can consume time, depending on the scale of the application deployment, but such preliminary checks save time in the long run.

The N1 Grid SPS 4.1 manages application life cycles by keeping a reference database of application configurations. IT managers can perform file-by-file comparison analysis of their application infrastructure to check for modifications and changes.

The N1 Grid SPS cannot detect "out-of-band" changes (changes made to the application infrastructure manually or outside the scope of the N1 system). Instead, a comparison analysis feature ensures that a host servers application settings conform to the reference model on the master server.

To automate application provisioning in heterogeneous environments, the N1 Grid SPS 4.1 supports a wide range of applications.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at