Sun looking to move agencies to its grid

But institutional resistance, security concerns mean that a transitional to hosted network services may be a long-time coming.

The new chairman of Sun Federal, Sun Microsystems' federal sales arm, wants to convince federal agencies to buy network services like they buy telecom services. “Each organization has built its own — I call them Frankenstein data centers — often using best-of-breed or obsolete technology,” he said. “I believe there’s a huge opportunity for us to add a lot of value,” Washington Technology reports.

That would be Scott McNealy, formerly the CEO of Sun. In his new role, McNealy is focusing on the huge but difficult opportunity of convicing federal CEOs to rely on Sun's grid, rather than building their own IT systems from scratch.

It makes sense in a lot of ways. Federal acquisition procedures are time-consuming and extremely detailed. Buys tend to happen through very large contracts that have always contained a certain amount of fraud and abuse. By the time an acquisition is made, software written and applications deployed, the agency is already behind the curve. Federal IT is just not on Internet time.

And because of the huge outlays and difficulty in IT acquisition, older systems stay operational longer than they should. "Some of the great museum pieces are still running in federal data systems," McNealy says.

Government agencies often stick with systems that don’t perform to expectations because of the huge upfront investment they’ve made, as well as the further costs to switch, he said. Those huge outlays of money could be barriers to agencies adopting the new subscription paradigm Sun is advocating. And it leads to

“I don’t envy the public sector purchasing process,” McNealy said. “Being the CIO in the public sector is incrementally challenging, because you operate under so many constraints.”

And the longer obsolete equipment continues to run, the more difficult it is to transition to new systems. Thus, subscription-based IT does make a lot of sense. But Sun may be in for a long sales cycle because of worries about control and security, and because the idea is just foreign to silo nature of federal agencies.

“When you tell them to go build a data center and deliver a Web service, they get into this construction mode,” McNealy said. “I’m not even sure that [government customers] know how to buy computing and storage on a subscription model, so we have a little anthropology to go break.”

And what about security? A big issue but not surmountable, say analysts.

Matthew Murray, chief technology officer at Raytheon Co., Waltham, Mass., also said security is grid computing’s biggest, though not insurmountable, challenge when it comes to the federal government.

“The Defense Department cannot have its data at rest in China,” Murray said. “It can’t even have its data at rest in an area where a kid on Yahoo can get to it.”

The solution likely will be to build grids on protected, government facilities where top-secret, or even higher, classified data can reside. That type of private grid would have the advantages of the public subscription model, said Robert Bredehoft, Sun’s vice president of global government industry sales.

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