Sun Microsystem's blade servers, due for launch by March 2003, will be bundled with the first release of Sun N1, the company's virtualisation system. N1 is being constructed from software that Sun acquired with two companies, Terraspring and Pirus, last month.
N1, like IBM's "autonomic computing" and HP's "utility datacentre", is intended to let IT managers apply the level of computing, storage and network resources required for each application, without having to manually reconfigure resources.
One difference with Sun's offering is that, while HP and IBM are promising to deliver computing power on tap from multi-vendor datacentres, Sun is noticeably quiet about the multi-vendor aspect, creating an impression of a Solaris-only solution, at least in the early stages.
The reason for this reticence is that Sun has no services arm to speak of. "For Sun, the opportunity is Solaris," said William Fellows, principal news analyst at the451. "This is different from IBM, whose own virtualised datacentre marketing push is driven by the need for more action for its services business." In other words, the virtualised datacentres promised by Sun's rivals will actually be delivered by the services parts of those companies, for a large regular cheque.
"Sun could usefully distinguish itself," said Fellows. "They should come clean and say this is about Solaris. Managers with Sun systems would welcome it."
"We are not a systems integrator," conceded Charles Andrews, Sun's UK director of product and technology solutions, accepting that Sun is more comfortable with its home technology. "We are a computer science company." The goal of Sun's N1 is to make datacentres more flexible and efficient, he said. "Server utilisation is currently at 6 percent to 15 percent, and we want to push this to 80 percent."
In 2003, N1 will deliver virtualisation at a very basic level, said Andrews, simply pooling resources. Provisioning applications across those resource pools won't arrive till later, with the whole thing being driven by end-user business policies (prioritising certain applications, for instance) in 2005.
On Tuesday Sun showed a demonstration of this stage, which is still hypothetical, where an IT manager has an N1 console, at which he or she can request that an application gets a particular service level. N1 then calculates the resources required, and "soft cables" them in a rack to deliver the service -- along with a suggested figure for the amount the IT manager should charge the user department whose application is being provisioned.
The acquisition of Terraspring, an early version whose product is in HP's Utility Datacentre, should help Sun eventually manage heterogeneous datacentres. Terraspring version 3, which handles EMC and IBM storage, is due to arrive in January 2003. Pirus Networks, which handles storage virtualisation, is now the data services platform group in Sun's Networked Storage division. Both were acquired in November 2003.