Sun Microsystems is undergoing a dramatic transformation. For the last few years it has moved
away from some of its proprietary approaches toward a more open source
approach to its tools and technologies.
At its recent JavaOne developer conference, Sun finally made Java
more palatable to Linux distribution by changing the license under which Java is distributed.
Solaris now has an open source project in OpenSolaris and is contributing an increasing amount of open source efforts in Solaris.
Sun’s software emancipation extends
across it’s product lines including its Java Enterprise
System and related tools.
At the helm of Sun’s technology initiatives for the past eight years has
been CTO Greg Papadopoulos. During his tenure, he has helped chart the company’s technology direction, architecture and standards as the IT industry, and therefore the company, was undergoing rapid change and tremendous challenge.
With the recent promotion of Jonathan Schwartz to
CEO of Sun, Papadopoulos has now also been given some additional
responsibilities, which he explained to internetnews.com.
Q: What is the most exciting piece of upcoming technology innovation from
Sun in your opinion and why?
The Sun Grid. It really is, finally, computing as a utility — just like
You don’t have to build your own power plant; you just pay for
what you use. If you have a Web browser and a credit card, you have access
to supercomputing power, at $1 per CPU-hour. Simple as that.
We build and manage the power plant so you don’t have to.
One of the great things about the grid, aside from the ease of use, is that
it will enable new kinds of communities to form. Most communities today are
built around the notion of: “Here’s my program. Download it.”
But the Sun
Grid provides a place where people can go and say, “Here’s my code actually
running. Go interact with it. Add value and prosper.”
It’s a place where anyone could go and create a Monte Carlo analysis of
financial models, for example, test it, and actually deploy it commercially,
essentially renting the infrastructure instead of building it.
Q: What non-Sun-originated technologies do you think hold the most promise
inside current Sun initiatives?
As we look at the software industry today, we are seeing two trends: open
source, where software developers are sharing bits (operating systems, Web
servers, browsers, etc.) and software as a service, where companies such as
Google, eBay, Amazon, PayPal, pull together bits and deliver a service.
blending of these two technology trends — what I call open services — is
where the industry is headed.
In order to have open services, however, we have to insist on open,
standardized interfaces. By open and standardized, I mean that the creation
and maintenance of the interface is democratic and the licensing terms do
not preclude anyone from implementing the interface.
You know an open standard if the economic and social positives are there:
multiple, competing implementations from a range of vendors and a low
switching cost for consumers.
Here’s how I see it working: If you create a service and people become
dependent on that service, then others must be able to inspect your
interfaces to create an alternative service.
In that way we’ll be able to
create healthy competition and not new monopolies. This will enable the new kinds of communities I mentioned earlier — communities built around compute power rather than code.
And each service will become more valuable as additional services are able to interact with it.
Q: What do you see as the risks of Sun’s open source initiatives? Or is it
Managing the interface is one of the toughest challenges: keeping critical
interfaces open to encourage competition and stimulate innovation.
very concerned about the impact of proprietary intellectual property on the
global standardization system, and we’re concerned that this hurts
innovation and access for both developed and developing economies.
I believe, for instance, that it should be exceedingly difficult to gain
patent protection on an interface. At the very least they should always be
subject to reverse engineering.
We have to say, look, every electrical
appliance gets to include a standard three-pronged plug. Nobody gets
exclusive rights to that.
We have a stack — servers to Solaris and the Java
Enterprise System — to allow developers to create open systems built on open
standards and open source. Not open sourcing would greatly limit the markets
we can participate in, the communities that we can participate in.
You don’t build communities by building walls of intellectual property.
Q: What do you see as the biggest technology challenges for enterprises in 2006?
Energy consumption has to top the list.
People around the world continue to
join the network at an incredible rate, services are proliferating, and
data centers are growing to meet the demand. All of which is great, but I’d
hate to see Google’s electric bill. Actually, I’d love to see it, but would
hate to pay it.
We need the equivalent of the Energy Star label for servers. A good server,
after all, is always on — unlike your dishwasher.
The good news, I’m pleased to say, is that Sun has some very power-efficient
servers on the market now, based on both AMD Opteron processors and our own
UltraSPARC T1 processors with CoolThreads technology.
Our Sun Ray desktops
are also extremely efficient, each using just four watts of electricity — 13 counting the server it’s connected to.
I have also just hired David Douglas as vice president of eco-responsibility,
reporting to me directly.
David will oversee environmental initiatives
across the company, including enhancements in Sun’s products in the areas of
energy efficiency, cooling technologies and management of Sun’s asset
sharing through programs, donations and access to Sun Grid resources.
Q: What keeps you up at night? What worries you about modern IT
infrastructure and technologies?
What worries me about modern IT infrastructure is that it is not as “modern”
as it should be. There is still too much complexity and issues around the
ability to get predictable service level agreements as we see scale of
As companies abstract infrastructure to services, do they take the time and
care to ensure replaceable components so that someone else can take over a
particular function? Like what Salesforce.com does, for example.
What we are
doing at Sun, which helps me sleep better, is the exciting work around Sun
Grid and how we’re taking the complexity out for customers.
Q: What’s next and what are your goals as CTO for 2006?
For the past eight years … I have been
focused on managing Sun’s technology direction, architecture and standards.
Our CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, just gave me the additional title of executive
vice president of research and development and refers to me as the “chief
In this role my goal is to build net-scale systems — which is the new
stack. I will be working directly with all of the chief technology officers
within Sun’s business units to drive efficiency and commitment to technical
Together we will build this one “product,” i.e. new stack for
infrastructure, that allows anyone to create and deliver the next generation
of network services.
The pieces also need to be integrated so we get
efficient, secure, compliant, predictable service levels that support
people building network services.
So, my primary goal is making sure Sun is attacking the complexity of modern
IT infrastructure and providing the building blocks of next-generation