Sun pushes management en masse

Sun Microsystems is selling new software to control hundreds of servers in one fell swoop, a step in its "N1" strategy to shield administrators from mundane management chores.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sun Microsystems began selling new software Tuesday to control hundreds of servers in one fell swoop, a step in its "N1" strategy to shield administrators from mundane management chores.

Sun's Change Manager lets an administrator simultaneously update a large group of servers--for example, all the computers a company uses to manage e-mail or to host the corporate Web site. The software, code-named iChange, can be used to perform tasks such as upgrading the operating system or installing a new program, said Jonathan Han, a Sun senior product manager.

The software is a step toward N1, Sun's initiative to turn data centers crammed with computers, storage and networking gear into more of a living, breathing system that automatically adjusts to meet changing computing demands. With Change Manager, server administration "still is a manual task; it's just a streamlined manual task," said IDC analyst John Humphreys. "But as you move to automate it, that's when you cross that threshold...toward N1."

N1 is the latest incarnation of Sun's effort to convince customers it's better to buy a host of technologies tuned to work together rather than to risk the hidden costs of assembling various components themselves. While the N1 plan has been received warmly, it's years away from reality and Sun has nearer-term concerns with profitability, layoffs and declining revenue.

Change Manager costs $5,000 for the management software plus $250 for each server that's being managed--a compelling price, according to analysts. "What we're seeing is one-third of administrators' time is spent on server deployments, updates and patches," Humphreys said, so a few hours saved rapidly pays off.

The price is inexpensive enough that low-ranking administrators will be able to sneak the software into use without requiring budget approval from high-ranking, cash-strapped senior executives, added Michael Dortch, a Robert Frances Group analyst. And with a 60-day free trial version, an administrator could just download it and tout cost savings to the boss if the software proves its worth, Dortch said.

"The challenge of updating and configuring multiple servers is...bedeviling to system administrators," he said. "Anything that helps automate that process is good."

Sun isn't the only company looking to make money from increased automation and easier administration. IBM and Hewlett-Packard have comparable efforts, as have start-ups such as Jareva, PlateSpin and Think Dynamics, Humphreys said.

Change Manager requires features built into Sun's Solaris 9 operating system and the most recent version of Solaris 8. It doesn't work with Solaris for Intel-compatible chips or with Linux, though Sun has promised Linux will be a part of N1 and that many of its software products will be available on Linux.

"We're taking a look at that in a future release. It's very preliminary, and it's purely discussions at this point," Han said of a Linux version.

Change Manager lets administrators create blueprints--a template based on a particular server's configuration that can be applied to new servers. It also lets administrators check to make sure a particular list of software packages is installed on each server, finding quickly which files are missing or which files were changed when and by whom. A scheduler lets administrators perform such operations in advance.

Opsware, formerly Loudcloud, also is involved in the market.