Sun's N1 initiative wins some allies

The company signs up about 60 early customers, including DaimlerChrysler and Cingular Wireless, for its N1 system to manage groups of computing resources.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems has signed up about 60 early customers, including DaimlerChrysler and Cingular Wireless, for its N1 system to manage groups of computing resources.

N1 is a crucial element to Sun's holistic computing strategy to concentrate not just on piece parts but on integrated collections of computing equipment. A member of Sun's new Java System software family, N1 is designed to unite computing resources into larger pools that can share work more efficiently than the separate computer systems that prevail today.

Winning actual customers will be important for Sun, not only to demonstrate progress in converting the N1 vision into a workable product, but also for figuring out what is actually needed in the real world. Sun announced the new customers at its SunNetwork conference here.

Sun has been buying up smaller companies--CenterRun, Terraspring and Pirus Networks--to build N1 quickly enough to remain competitive with comparable "utility computing" projects under way at Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

More acquisitions are possible. "We're going to keep a watchful eye on whatever looks cool, whatever looks interesting out there. We'll continue to integrate what we have with the things we acquired," said Yael Zheng, senior director of marketing for N1 and availability products.

Most of the customers are using the early version of N1 that came with Sun's blade servers, Zheng said. That product is based on Terraspring's software.

About a dozen other customers are using CenterRun's software, including VeriSign, Kaiser, Staples and the Gap.

The rest are using either pilot versions of the full-fledged N1 data center version, which supports a much broader range of hardware than the blades edition, or the Pirus storage system, Zheng said.

The data center version runs on servers with Solaris, Windows and Linux, Zheng said. It can control networking equipment from Cisco Systems, storage network switches from McData and Brocade, and storage systems from Sun. Sun is trying to extend the support more broadly, she added.

Sun also has announced a service and sales group for N1 to help show customers what the technology promises. It will be a "fairly sizable organization," with hundreds of employees, Zheng said.