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Sun to tout remote control service

Service cuts customers' maintenance fees when they choose to let Sun manage their hardware and software.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sun Microsystems is expected to detail a service Tuesday that cuts customers' maintenance fees when they choose to let Sun manage their hardware and software.

The new Management Connection Service will cut maintenance fees on a sliding scale, said Larry Singer, Sun's senior vice president of strategic insight. Sun expects to recoup the costs because monitoring hardware and software will let the company step in before a problem reaches the crisis stage, then schedule nonemergency repairs for a convenient time.

"The more control they give us, the more money they save and the more they'll be able to save on using the technology rather than running the technology," Singer said. "For us, it costs a hell of a lot less to prevent an outage than it does to send somebody to a site to find out what went wrong, then go back to get the parts to fix them."

The service is based on software Sun acquired through its $49 million purchase of SevenSpace in late 2004. Sun is combining it with an automatic updating technology called the Sun Update Connection; together the two are called Sun Connection Service.

The push is part of Sun's effort to make its technology more competitive. The company was bruised in recent years when servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron swept the marketplace, often running Linux and displacing Sun's UltraSparc-based machines. Sun is fighting back, partly by embracing x86 servers and partly by arguing its Solaris operating system permits higher reliability than rivals operating systems.

The connection service reinforces a strategy to give Solaris away for free so the company can sneak into competitors' customer accounts through a backdoor. "We have the ability to do support for Hewlett-Packard and Dell boxes when running Solaris," Singer said.

Sun is trying to build a deeper sense of customers' dissatisfaction when their computer equipment doesn't work. "We are the only industry that expects our customers to maintain large staffs of people to do nothing but keep the vendors' products up and running," Singer said.

And Sun isn't afraid to set high expectations for its own products. "We're enabling every one of our products to phone home," Singer said. "It will allow us to do patch management, updates, predictive and preventative maintenance remotely."

The news is part of Sun's latest quarterly news announcement. This one is being held in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to woo government customers in particular. The last quarterly announcement, in New York, was geared toward Wall Street customers.

At that event, the company discussed its Sun Grid, a service that charges customers $1 per processor per hour to use Sun servers for calculation tasks such as financial risk modeling. This time around, Sun is announcing it is making the technology as a product called the Sun Grid Rack System that customers can install at their own sites.

Also Tuesday, Sun plans to debut its N1 System Manager, software that helps administer Sun's Opteron-based V20z and V40z servers from a central console. The software is comparable to packages such as HP's Systems Insight Manager.

"It's plugging a hole," Singer said. "In the x86 environment, for a long time people have expected to manage with a single console."

Sun will extend the software so it can control Solaris on Sparc processors and Microsoft Windows by the end of the year, Singer added. It costs $299 per server.

Also coming is the Sun N1 Service Provisioning System, which is used to install software across groups of different types of servers--Web servers, application servers and database servers. The software can be used to install Solaris, Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating systems as well as Java server software from Sun, BEA Systems, IBM and Oracle. It costs $1,400 per server to use.