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Sun Promises New Reference Architectures

Executives from Sun Microsystems conducted a conference call Tuesday to offer the public a taste of what will be unveiled next month at its SunNetwork 2003 Conference with regard to its solutions and reference architectures for its Orion and N1 initiatives.

Clark Masters, executive vice president of Sun's Enterprise Systems Products Group, and Marge Breya, vice president of field marketing for Sun's Global Sales Organization, presided over the call, offering shadowy details of pending reference architectures.

The duo did, however, talk about specific implementations that customers and partners are using to cut costs without sacrificing computing power or operational efficiencies. What Masters and Breya wanted to drive home was that Sun is a bonafide services company that competes with IBM and HP through its own engineering process as opposed to just a IT products maker. The goal seemed to be to give industry watchers a taste of how it develops products and gets them to market.

Noting that the IT environment has changed radically over the last few years, with customers demanding more for less, Masters said his Santa Clara, Calif. company's goal is to remove the fear factor of computer system complexity.

"Sun's approach is different than IBM or HP," Masters said. "We're engineering the complexity out of solutions in advance," with the development of N1 products and reference architectures. The latter, Masters promised, is not a collection of brochures, but a set of "real, pre-engineered solutions."

"Complexity is IBM's friend," Masters said. "We take out complexity, but IBM has a layer of services that is non-repeatable. Sun is adding repeatable services." Masters promised the reference architectures would not be immutable, and that engineers would go back and recharacterize those architectures as needed, tweaking the hardware and software.

Sun is racing rivals IBM and HP to the finish line of next-generation computing platforms that are easily managed and extremely automated, both qualities customers are asking for. The competition is fierce, and Sun has largely been acknowledged as a company that has been behind the others -- not in terms of vision, but in terms of actual products on the market.

Accordingly, analysts are waiting for more concrete evidence of products from the company's vaunted Orion and N1 strategies, which will be furthered at next months conference in San Francisco. Masters vowed new Orion and N1 solutions in 2004, if not late 2003. He also said the new reference architectures would greatly simplify Sun's strategies, but would not be more specific.

Masters described a process where Sun developers author sketches, or blueprints for solutions, followed by reference architectures that take customer problems in retail, banking, data warehousing or digital media and comes up with a logical hardware/software solution to them.

Finally, the actually infrastructure solutions themselves are born and sold through Sun's direct sales force or iForce and with the cooperation of such partners such as Deloitte and Touche, Sybase, Oracle or Infosys.

Breya delved into a few more specifics on the call, noting that Sun currently has nine reference architectures spread across four major solutions for enterprise consolidation, enterprise continuity, digital archiving and network identity -- all keystone segments at a time when doing more with less -- securely -- and with the ability to back up operations and data is paramount.

"We have three goals with this process: to help customers reduce cost and complexity, increase the effectiveness of mobility with security solutions and accelerate network services deployment," Breya said. "... Why are we doing this now? Looking at current trends, we're seeing infrastructure problems that limit the effectiveness and competitiveness of companies around the world."

Breya said the handling of virus situations with the improper architecture is one such example companies have been guilty of -- and an area Sun hopes to correct with its network identity solutions. Breya also said companies that have had a hard time managing large data centers they've built owing to "server sprawl" can benefit from Sun's enterprise consolidation strategy.

For example, Sun has pared the number of its servers at British Telecom from 95 to 6, as well as replaced 43 HP servers at Corporate Express with two high-end SunFire systems.

With regard to enterprise continuity, which has become a must for systems vendors since the 9/11 disaster, Sun boasts an "active, active cluster" that is effective up to 200 kilometers away to increase transaction failover.

Digital archiving is also becoming incredibly important. As the government continues to crack down on corporate governance rules, the duration of time enterprises must keep vital e-mails has lengthened. While the cost of saving such deluges of e-mails is prohibitive, Sun's digital archiving solution servers 80,000 users at Daimler Chrysler spanning 18 countries, lowering total cost of ownership and security risks.

Network identity is also a hot topic and Sun has made great strides with its software. With the help of Liberty Alliance 1.0, Sun has policy-based procedures for employees, customers and suppliers implemented at Wells Fargo. While passport support is generally expensive for multiple single sign-on solutions, Sun's identity products virtually eliminate password costs, Breya said.

Ultimately, Masters and Breya said they will unveil new reference architectures and progress of ongoing Orion software management and N1 automated computing systems projects at the SunNetwork Conference from Sept. 16-18.