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Sun gains utility computing ally

The server and software company signs up consulting firm SchlumbergerSema to partner on pay-as-you-go processing power and outsourcing services.

Sun Microsystems has drafted another partner for its utility services push, signing up consulting firm SchlumbergerSema to sell outsourcing services based around its server gear.

Under the deal, announced Wednesday, SchlumbergerSema plans to offer outsourcing services that allow corporate customers to purchase server-processing power on a per-usage basis. The services will be based on high-end Unix servers and N1 software from Sun, the consulting firm said.

The idea of utility computing is that businesses can purchase computing power and access to software in the same way they buy water or electricity. Instead of investing in their own data centers, corporations can contract with a provider of utility computing services to lower their information technology costs.

Sun's utility computing strategy revolves around its N1 data center management software, which can pool server and storage processing power from several machines and then use the networked hardware and software to best match fluctuations in the computing load. It also taps Sun's high-end Unix servers, which have partitioning that allows service providers to host applications from many companies on a single system.

Competitors Hewlett-Packard and IBM are beginning to introduce hosted services based on their own utility computing software. By contrast, Sun's strategy is to provide services through alliances with systems integration and consulting firms, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has said.

SchlumbergerSema is the second systems integration company signed up by Sun in the past few weeks to help provide utility computing services. In September, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) said that it allied with the company to sell hosted information technology services based around Sun equipment.

SchlumbergerSema plans to gradually start offering utility computing services, which existing outsourcing customers have been demanding, said Stephen Holmes, manager for computing infrastructure outsourcing at the New York-based consulting firm.

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Usage-based pricing models for outsourced utility computing services are still immature, according to some analysts. However, SchlumbergerSema's customers are looking for usage-based options, Holmes said. Because of this, the company is working to let customers pay based on business process metrics, such as the number of transactions handled.

"One of the areas where we see particular strength is that (utility computing) enables us to have more of a business-process outsourcing approach," Holmes said. "We need to think about business transactions and billing on things that (customers) value from a business perspective."

The initial services offered by SchlumbergerSema will be based on Sun's Unix servers. The company is also testing Sun's N1 "virtualization" software, which can pool the computing power of several racks of stripped-down blade servers.