The lesson in POD configuration

paying retail for a custom assembled POD tells us there's a hole in the market - somebody should fill it.

We all talk about the cost of computers: $3,495 for an entry level T1000 or $745 for the base X2100, but it's important to remember that this is rackmount gear that needs quite a lot of support infrastructure before you can really use it.

That infrastructure, unfortunately, has not been subject to Moore's law - on the contrary, costs have gone up each year since at least the mid eighties.

Admitedly an "industry standard" rack mount for a Microvax II at $800 came with one shelf and the suggestion that you bundle the cables using colored electrical tape while today's come with network and power distribution cabling for 32 or more servers; but still, if all you want is a basic system all that non computer stuff you need to put around the machine can swamp your processor cost.

Right now my hypothetical Sun pod has a list price of about $19,500 without a processor -but inclusive of a lockable rack, a UPS good for up to four hours with a 3,000 watt load if you want to buy all the batteries, dual 24 port fast ethernet switches, and two dual ported T3 capable routers. Just what you need for most applications, right? but also about $2,000 more than a mid range, 16GB, eight core, processor with four integrated 73GB drives - and that just doesn't seem right.

Sun's idea in making these things rack mount only is that "nobody buys just one" -and if you're putting eight high end processor configurations into this rack the cost doesn't look so exhorbitant - but the fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of businesses out there that need just one -with maybe a lightly configured second unit for backup, testing, and the oddball uses that always come up but really don't belong on the production machine.

For Sun to prepackage what we need for this pod in a deskside format would cost them an estimated 20 cents on our retail dollar - figure about $4,000 at the factory gate and make that about $6,000 delivered to the customer with the software pre-installed and mostly configured.

Notice that I'm talking about a lot more than a pedestal mount or even something with an integrated JBOD - I'm suggesting Sun could put together a box that has the UPS and network stuff needed for full functionality all fully integrated and ready to rock.

Dell does that, go to their on-line store and you can configure your rack, the UPS, and your network gear right alongside the processors: get everything in one package, pay for everything with one check.

Dell can't do much with software, but Sun can; and could therefore offer more integration than Dell can - from Solaris 10/ZFS to network configuration and thousands of applications the buyer would write one order, have one vendor, and get one device in one box that imposes a trivial setup burden.

And that's where the cost lesson on the pod turns into opportunity. There are lots of applications arenas where upgrading to the pod from whatever's there is pretty much a plug and go proposition. I've talked, for example, about replacing a couple of HP boxes running Sybase - but that idea also applies to almost any database applications including Oracle (where the licensing deal is so good you practically get the pod for free), DB2/Informix and both PostgreSQL and MySql.

Things are a bit more complicated in applications like e-commerce where the pod would typically replace stuff hacked together using Microsoft SQL-Server and related tools, but there's so much good code out there now that offering to match such functionality is usually pretty low risk.

As things stand Sun isn't likely to make a box like this until the "Rock" generation of CMT/SMP chips out next year, meanwhile they're missing an opportunity to go after two key markets: data center managers interested in testing the waters outside the IBM/HP world, and small to medium businesses with a need to improve their web presence. To do it, all they'd need to do is give their ISVs and consulting partners the option of having Sun configure, deliver, and set-up PODs that come with their software, racks, power gear, and networking fully configured and a Sun's wide range of processor and storage options.

The ISVs and other partners would then sell the services needed to go from a working box, to a smoothly functioning application - typically a few days on site followed by a continuing revenue stream from selling application and support services.

And that takes us back to the lesson idea: paying retail for a custom assembled POD tells us there's a hole in the market - somebody should fill it.