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McNealy: Stop building jalopies

Sun CEO Scott McNealy chides thousands of gearheads gathered at OracleWorld for overengineering their companies' computer systems.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Scott McNealy chided thousands of gearheads gathered at OracleWorld for overengineering their companies' computer systems.

"Everyone is building their own jalopies," McNealy said Tuesday during a keynote speech at the Oracle customer conference here.

McNealy said that in his view the information technology industry is slowly evolving away from a model in which every company assembles a unique data center with components from 80 different suppliers. In the future, he predicted, most companies will buy preassembled, standard computer systems or rent them, and IT departments will be much smaller.

"Our industry is way too complex," he said. "A lot of employees are delivering features that we want to build into products. Hence, (IT) is way too expensive."

McNealy said the IT industry's fixation on the components of computing, such as operating systems, application servers, network switches, and so on, is inane. "It's like throwing a piston ring on the table and saying, 'Drive to L.A.,'" he said.

The Sun chief's speech and his comparison of IT to the automotive industry echo comments often made by Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison. Ellison has a favorite line he uses: "Each child should be unique, but not every computer."

Sun and Oracle are close allies, with sales of Oracle database software on Sun server hardware driving revenue for each company.


HP, IBM and Sun have recently kicked
off multibillion-dollar initiatives in
support of the emerging technology.

Along with a common vision, Sun and Oracle have common enemies, McNealy acknowledged. Both are fierce competitors with IBM and Microsoft. In addition, both companies have seen their share of their respective markets eroded by lower-priced suppliers, with Dell squeezing Sun in the server market and Microsoft impinging on Oracle in database software.

Keeping with the grid computing theme of OracleWorld, McNealy also pushed the idea that more companies will completely outsource their IT departments and that technology suppliers will find ways to run IT more efficiently using a shared computing, or grid, infrastructure.

Sun is developing such a "utility" technology called N1, and Oracle offers Oracle Outsourcing, a hosting service for its database and applications software.

McNealy said such a change in IT buying and distribution is a major shift. He likened it to moving everyone away from building their own custom airplane to everyone buying a seat on an airplane run by the airlines.

McNealy even lamented his own company's purchase and customization of an Oracle business-management system to run accounting and other corporate functions, presumably before the hosting option was available. "We've made 5,000 modifications to Oracle" enterprise resource planning applications, he said. "That's painful."