Sun's CIO backs blogs despite lawyer worries

Sun Microsystems' chief information officer (CIO) has backed the vendor's embrace of corporate blogging, despite difficulties such as ensuring senior executives don't post comments that affect the stock price and the occasional posting that makes the company's lawyers "pull their hair out".

Sun Microsystems' chief information officer (CIO) has backed the vendor's embrace of corporate blogging, despite difficulties such as ensuring senior executives don't post comments that affect the stock price and the occasional posting that makes the company's lawyers "pull their hair out".

"So far we've had very positive experiences with blogging, and I would encourage many other companies to do it as well," Bill Vass told ZDNet Australia&nbsp in a wide-ranging interview about his experiences as the CIO of a high-technology company.

He cited Sun engineers' blogging of technical information and responses to questions about Sun's Solaris operating system.

Vass said Sun had faced problems with so-called 'Section 10' employees, such as senior executives that had the potential to affect the company's stock price with their blog postings.

For example, he said Sun president Jonathan Schwartz -- who keeps a public blog -- was frustrated when April Fool's day came around, because he couldn't use his blog to play a practical joke.

"A few times, he's said things like 'maybe we should acquire Novell', and it changed the stock price," Vass said of Schwartz's blog. "You have to be careful ... if ever he's writing anything controversial he has to get the lawyers to look at it."

Sun faced fewer issues with blogs written by non-Section 10 employees said Vass, but the company's legal team still read all the postings. Vass said he suspected the blogs were "making some of the lawyers pull their hair out".

For example, he said, one employee used his blog to post advice on how to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley reporting legislation. The company's lawyers forced that employee to put a disclaimer on his blog in case someone called him to account for bad advice.

Just another CIO ... almost
Vass said his position at Sun was not that different from the average CIO in that he spent most of his time facing common drudgeries like keeping costs low (his budget has halved to US$300 million over the past several years), complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley and consolidating data warehouses.

However, some unusual problems did surface sometimes, he said, citing the example of a Solaris engineer who contacted Sun's IT help desk in India and subsequently sent Vass a note complaining the help desk member who assisted him didn't know intricate kernel settings for the operating system he needed help on.

"I'm like: 'Hey, he's a help desk guy, give him a break'", said Vass.

In another example, Vass received a mysterious note that a major system had been disabled and had stopped production on a hardware chip.

Although Vass had no knowledge of this, he soon discovered the system in question was in fact the desktop machine of an engineer who had recently left the company. The desktop had been reformatted following his departure, cutting off 600 users who had over the last three years depended on it for network services.

"There was no way for us to really know that was going on," said Vass. "Fortunately we had backups and could restore it, but those are the kind of things you run into at a tech company. Everyone has an opinion and everyone's building things here and there."

Vass said while many of the Sun engineers could largely take care of their own support needs, "they're also, because of their expertise, able to really mess things up".

Risky business
One of the most exciting parts of working at Sun for Vass is the fact the company runs all of its own products generally far in advance of the time they're put out to market.

The CIO runs a group called 'Sun on Beta-Sun', that rigorously tests beta software in large-scale deployments within the company's 42,000 users. Generally the people who have to use Sun's new products on a daily basis first are the ones who build them, said Vass.

"So for instance the Solaris 10 engineers were running on Solaris 10 for their e-mail server and their own directory server, their Sun Ray server and their desktops about a year and a half ago. So if they screwed things up they got to feel the pain."

"Same thing with the hardware engineers, they'll run on the latest alpha versions of the chips. And the disk engineers will run the latest software disk management systems and things like that."

Vass said Sun chief executive Scott McNealy described this process as "flying in our own airplane".

At the end of the day, however, Vass' priorities mirror those of other CIOs. "It's not really about toys, it's about how to accelerate the business," he said. "But I do get my fair share of toys working at Sun."

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All