Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos says that the world only needs five computers. In an interview conducted by news.com's Stephen Shankland, Papadopoulos listed more than five--Google, eBay, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Yahoo, Salesforce.com, and the Great Computer of China--to make his point that the earth's compute resources will resolve into about "five hyperscale, pan-global broadband computing services giants."
Sun, of course, wants to provide the hardware and software parts to power the datacenters of the hyperscale giants, which is in line with the company's long-standing tagline, "the network is the computer," which has a marketing corallary that the company has yet to fulfill, "Sun is the network computer." Sun and Papadopoulos believe that the company's holistic approach to building datacenter solutions and investments in R&D will pay off in the long term. In the interview Papadopoulos said:
If you are inside Sun, you are getting a big earful that the R&D has to reshape to meet the reality--what I've been calling this brutal efficiency of that landscape. You can't sell soft products into a world that looks like that. It's: What's the performance per watt, per dollar, per rack unit? What's the productivity? What is its service level under load? It's much more about how one would think about approaching designing large-scale power plants that have to service the city vs. designing portable generators. It's that kind of holistic engineering that we're really trying to drive toward.
Here are a few more choice excerpts:
So under this definition, you think that there are only going to be four or five or six of these?
Papadopoulos: I think it's going to look more like the five or six, like there are five or six multinational energy companies. There are hundreds of multinational energy companies, but there are five or six that really get to the scale of being able to efficiently do the whole thing. If you have someone who is 10 times the scale of someone else, they're able to spend more money on R&D and architecture. They're able to invest more in engineering to get it to be more efficient. That inevitably tips towards larger systems. So whether it's five or six or 12 is not the issue; it's the consolidation around the very large scale.
What happens to everybody else? (Sun CEO) Jonathan Schwartz used the corner dentist office as an example--these people, they end up being a tenant or a client who taps into one of these large systems. So if you're one of the survivors, then you end up hosting software for some huge constellation of customers?
Papadopoulos: Exactly. It's called software as a service. It really is the running of what we think of as IT through the network. You don't buy software, you buy the consequence of the software. That starts with the small and medium enterprises. eBay, in my mind, is the leading example of small businesses being absorbed by services. Anybody who clicks their store on eBay is in fact consuming a service. They are contributing to a larger-scale eBay rather than them buying some server and sticking it on their desk.If there's a tremendous diversity of small clients running on these very large infrastructures, then these very large infrastructures are going to have to accommodate that variety. When I think of eBay today, I think of auctions and direct sales. When I think of Amazon, you think of e-commerce. But when I think of all the businesses out there in the world that use computers today, they use computers for everything under the sun.
Sun just wants to the leading company, with its holistic vision and R&D investment, that supplies the computer equipment for everything under the sun, just as GE supplies jet engines for the airline industry. In the next few years, we'll find out whether Sun's vision is matched by its business success.