Does the planet need only five computers?

Does the planet need only five computers?

Summary: Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos says that the world only needs five computers. In an interview conducted by news.

TOPICS: Oracle

Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos says that the world only needs five computers. In an interview conducted by's Stephen Shankland, Papadopoulos listed more than five--Google, eBay,, Microsoft, Yahoo,, 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. 

Topic: Oracle

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  • take a holiday....

    these people need to get more time off. They're living in dreamland already. I wouldn't trust IBM with my projects and data now, never mind anyone ''larger''.
  • Refactoring...

    Before anyone goes crazy about the lack of IT jobs this could mean...

    I've worked at a multi-national global company and I've work for myself. Currently I work for a mid size successful business. In the big company they spend the money to keep some really crazy smart people around because they need to. In the company I'm with now, programmers are really business analyst that given a good rules engine and workflow would do just as well. I'm all for letting the big guys take the big risks. In our mid size company we moved totally away from homing our own systems in to large colocated facilities. Why should I be really smart about my generators when it has very little to do with my business or goals. We've grown since doing that. If you shift to remote computing resources and highly skilled computing engineers at 5 or 6 big companies, all your current brain trust will (should) shift to your business. Does anyone really think it is cost effective to mass print anymore, or has that gone the way of the big printers? What about the type-setters? It has all worked out.. so will this. Go big 5 go.

    Having said that, I'm stuck dealing with AT&T right now and they are making my life VERY hard. I would worry about migration and competition between the six or else the customer support drops and the prices go up. So far in the computing space I have not had that problem.
  • Inhuman resources

    I don't know whether the planet needs only five computers. I do know that ZDNet definately needs a copy editor.
  • Them vs. Us

    Why should I store all my files etc on any one or all of five giant main frames to get lost, pilfered, altered, and charged a FEE for?

    Why should I even have to connect to the www in order to do my work, letter writing, document creation, confidential files, etc. other than that micromush, sunshine, or some other organization can charge me for the privilege.

    And then one, or more, of the big five get blown up by terrorist, have a big fire, etc. and what then?

    Bad idea from the git-go!
  • 5 computers

    Is Mr. Watson still alive? and does he know that Greg Popadopoulos is plagurizing his quotes?
  • Really bad idea

    The Internet was originally designed to be a non-centralized computing system that was supposed to be able to survive a nuclear war. The idea was that the computing power would be distributed so that an attack on one site would not bring it down. By consolidating everything on just 5 systems, that redundancy is lost and it makes it a lot easier to bring the whole thing down.
    And another thing, Having one of the 5 in China is a horrible, hideous idea. That leaves 1/5th of the content of the Internet at the mercy of Chinese Communists Censors. Do we want Commies telling us what we can and can't see on the Internet?
    • re: Really Bad idea

      [b]And another thing, Having one of the 5 in China is a horrible, hideous idea. That leaves 1/5th of the content of the Internet at the mercy of Chinese Communists Censors. Do we want Commies telling us what we can and can't see on the Internet? [/b]

      What makes you think the chinese computer will matter to the rest of the world?

      If their current policies are to be believed, they're more than likely to firewall off the whole enchilada of their own network so little if anything from the west or the rest of the world gets IN or OUT without passing rigorous inspection.

      Unless you're fond of visiting chinese web sites, it probably won't make too much of a difference. News sites - like CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, etc... - will still give you their typical slant on things.
      • I still don't like it...

        Too much power in the hands of so few can only be a bad thing.
  • So IBM were right!

    Well IBM did say there was only ever going to be the need for 4 or 5 computers in the world. ;-)
  • put down the pipe...

    and back away from the crack...

    some people just dont get it and him of all people should know better than to spew that kind of crap...

    this is along the lines of thinking the other moron CEO at Oracle had 20 years ago...."no need for personal computers, just Oracle software running on dumb terminals to provide all your computer needs"....he was just a little off on that theory..

    Moore's law is applicable today as it was back then and Sun should see the light and realize super-computers are not where the future is going, it is heading towards the power being localized in appliances in the hands of many (be it a pocketPC, phone, audio player, laptop, desktop PC, strap-on headgear, you name it...) not having mega processing power in central mainframes controlled by the few....
  • More like one massively distributed computer.

    The future will hold a vast proliferation of ever smaller and cheaper processors and storage. The trick will be to let these peers share processing power and storage to provide common access to shared redundant processing power, connectivity, and storage. By pooling resources we lower our costs and increase availability.

    Like the dinosaurs, evolution into a few very large beasts is begging for extinction. Small distributed systems are much more survivable and less prone to all types of threats. As a architect for military systems, centralization exposes too many vulnerabilities. Bureaucrats love the control (read revenues for Sun) of big, expensive, centralized systems - but they usually fail from their own inertia. The big 10 power companies will eventually be replaced by the grid connecting separately owned micro generators (e.g the household fuel cell or solar array).
  • Not IBM

    It was a group of techies at Univac, which later became Sperry Rand, that made this statement. IBM in no way agreed with statement. Instead, while Univac held back from really building the business be cause they saw no market there, IBM saw things differently and really took a sizable financial gamble that this would be a major market. They stopped spending their research dollars on old-style business machines and focused on digital computers. The intent was to replace their mechanical devices with electronic ones throughout the world.

    Up until now we can see who was right. Even if the market ultimately coalesces to just a few huge systems and prove the Univac right, IBM and all the others sure have had a good ride.
    • This does not sound correct.

      I believe it was 12 computers, and it was Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM. This was said in about 1947. As I remember the story, his son became CEO of IBM and launced the 360 project 10 years later.
  • Really sorry to read this. I like Sun.

    Today James Watt in an interview with Victorian Times said "It is a brutal market out there. The customer wants to know What's the Horse-power per Coal-ton."

    Poor Sun. I hoped that they were going to pull out of their slump. But from this interview, it sounds like thier only survival is from customers taking pity on them.

    Oh, and who are the 5 "Energy Companies" he is talking about? Does he mean "5 Oil Companies?" As the CEO of a technology company, shouldn't he know the difference? Poor Sun.
  • 5 computers

    Maybe old man Watson (IBM) was right.
  • 5 Computers

    Does this mean that we will all need to learn to speak Chinese after China purchases the rights to SUN?
  • 5 Computers?

    Then Next the'll say we only need 5 Trees!
  • Redefining the Word Computer...

    What you are saying Greg Control...very stringent control of digital rivers...not "5 Computers"...and that would be more like a five-headed monster...DoS will also take on a redefining then...

    But looking far enough will be a 10 headed monster...not a 5 headed one...

    The world has enough monsters...but it will get more that are "redefined"...only because ignorant people will buy into it and because there's only one back-bone to this evolving beast...and they are buying already...Because they can't think for themselves and rely on the "GP's" of this world to tell them what they need...

    I'm not saying Greg Papadopoulos is wrong in what he fore-sees...he's just wrong in propagating is not a healthy plan and it will be short lived...

    Dave Brooks
    Brookstone5 Communications
  • So, they were right

    So, they were right in the 1940s when it wasd predictedthat the world would never need more than 13 computers.
    Liam SWz
  • Message has been deleted.