RealTime IT News

Sun Bullish on Service Biz Potential

MENLO PARK, CALIF. -- It's not surprising to hear a company like Sun Microsystems tout technology, but at a briefing here today, the server giant was particularly bullish about one segment traditionally thought of as people-intensive.

"Ultimately, [support] will be provided by technology, not people," said Don Grantham, executive vice president of Sun Services. "This a strategic direction for us for everything from storage to servers."

While service technicians and other support staff aren't going away anytime soon, Grantham said Sun has technology to take on an increasing amount of the support burden electronically, even for customers with non-Sun systems. Some of those technology pieces were the result of recent acquisitions, specifically StorageTek and SevenSpace, acquired a year ago. Grantham said the SevenSpace technology has enabled it to launch a pilot program supporting over a hundred data centers worldwide.

"Where we have a customer with at least 50 percent Sun equipment, we are actively pursuing this model of heterogeneous support, whether it's HP, or IBM or others in the mix, and we think that's a competitive advantage for us," Grantham said.

All of the big vendors have plans that go by various names, such as self-healing, to better automate support. "But most of those are more oriented to shifting the workload somewhere else when there's a failure," Dan Mahoney, chief research and client officer at Forrester Research, told internetnews.com. "Sun is the first to take advantage of technology. I think there's little question IBM or HP could also implement something like this, but Sun's the one doing it, and I think that's fabulous."

Mahoney was quick to note that Sun is just taking the first steps towards autonomic repair solutions that he says will work best with Sun equipment and less broadly with others. Further, Sun's technology is aimed at identifying and preventing problems before they occur, as well as after the fact. Mahoney pointed out that Sun technicians, once alerted to problems by the system, are still largely involved in taking the steps to fix them. But the advantage is, they don't have to track down the right IT person or other manager at the customer site, because they are in direct communication with the affected system.

Grantham conceded that some government agencies and other organizations are reluctant to have their systems electronically connected to Sun, even for repair work.

"It's the same issue as outsourcing," said Mahoney. "It's a question of how comfortable you are giving someone else access to your systems. Sun customers in particular are usually very technologically savvy, and, I would guess, for the most part, they'd be happy to have the company that built the computer deal with any fixes."

As part of its recent launch of the T1 UltraSparc with CoolThreads server line, Sun includes a choice of built-in service levels, "Business Ready," a 24/7 support program, or a Bronze level that covers five business days a week during business hours.

On a different topic, Grantham spoke glowingly of Sun's acquisition of StorageTek, which some analysts had questioned as too costly, with tape storage a mature market.

"We don't think we overpaid for StorageTek at all. It was a fair price," said Grantham. "We now have 36 percent of all the data stored on the planet, and we believe we're getting a much better return on the StorageTek investment than hanging on to the cash we had."