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.”

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