Sun Hints at New N1 Server

SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems Friday continued its next phase of its N1 rollout with a glimpse of its next server.

Briefing analysts and press, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based networking giant said it was between 30 and 60 days from demonstrating and releasing a new “provisioning” server. The yet-to-be-named box is expected to carry SPARC and Intel IA32 processors and run Solaris and Sun Linux over Infiniband Gigabit Ethernet.

The server will also running Sun’s recently released N1 architecture. The platform is being styled as the answer for companies looking to manage groups of computers and networks as a single system. For instance, an enterprise customer can simply use the architecture to shift jobs from overloaded machines onto systems that are idle instead of purchasing new systems to add capacity.

Sun Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz says the idea is to help companies manage their networks through a “cable once and run forever” setup.

“Provisioning is a fancy way of saying ‘don’t you worry about it,'” said Schwartz. “Folks are not interested in writing new applications as much as they are interested in connecting the systems they built.”

According to Sun’s internal survey, only 12 percent said they could afford to migrate to Windows XP with the majority (90 percent) expecting licensing fees to increase. Some 38 percent of those customers Sun said it talked to had considered rival products and a mere 9 percent said they won’t consider an alternative to Microsoft “yet.”

“I think the fact that Microsoft has refused to participate in one of the worst recessions we’ve experienced says something about how they are perceived,” said Schwartz.

Also included in the upcoming server is software to help with load balancing, a SSL accelerator, and the ability to handle digital video broadcasting (DVB) and a digital signal processor (DSP).

Pivotal to N1’s success will be storage software, switching devices and virtualization technology from recently acquired Pirus Networks, which makes its debut in the new provisioning server.

Because of the amount of software included into the servers, Sun also said it is committing to synchronizing all software updates on a quarterly schedule. The updates are expected to coincide with Solaris releases. The company said it took this approach to reduce the amount of times that system administrators would have to keep track of upgrades.

“This is a major shift in our software strategy and we think that customers will respond in kind,” said Schwartz.

Sun also reiterated that it will pre-bundle many of the company’s software features including its Liberty Alliance-enabled Sun ONE suite (directory server, identity server, meta directory, messaging server, calendar server and instant messaging server).

The company also said its recently designed Mad Hatter software stack will allow for better interoperability between platforms. The stack currently is comprised of a JavaCard security tier, the company’s Evolution platform (for connecting to MS Exchange), StarOffice, a Mozilla browser, Java 2, Gnome 2 and Linux.

The company said its hardware/software combinations are perfect for cost sensitive and security sensitive customers like universities and government agencies as well as foreign governments such as Peru, Brazil, UK, Germany and China.

“I was recently in China, and the representatives there told me the reason there is piracy in the country is because the price of software is so expensive,” said Sun Vice President of Desktop Software Curtis Sasaki.

Based on industry statistics, Sasaki estimated that the operating costs incurred for a Windows-based network averaged $2,000 per person, per month.

“We’re slowing chipping away at all the issues that CIOs are concerned about, especially ones who don’t want to face CPU charges or mail server charges,” said Schwartz.

Meantime, Sun continues to take a “wait and see” approach to its Linux kernel. While Sun Linux is loosely based on Red Hat Linux, the company did not rule out exploring other options.

“We want to stay as close as possible to Linus’ (Torvald) LSB (Linux Standards Base) as possible,” said Schwartz.

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