Sun touts savings via "N1" project

Executives promise budgetary relief for companies that sign on to its "N1" plan to make servers, storage and network equipment better work together.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems executives promised companies major cost savings if they sign on to its "N1" plan to make servers, storage and network equipment better work together.

Steve MacKay, Sun's vice president for the N1 project, explained during his keynote address here at the SunNetwork 2002 conference the benefits of the new program. With N1, network administrators will be able to increase computing power available for a particular job and, ultimately, will be able to guarantee response times for completing those jobs, he said.

The N1 plan is designed so administrators can get more use out of existing hardware by sharing jobs across several systems. N1 will automate tasks that are often performed by hand, MacKay said.

"Every time we saw a Post-it note in the data center, we said, 'That was an opportunity for N1,'" MacKay said.

As expected, MacKay also detailed the schedule for delivering components that will make up N1.

Analysts call the new program ambitious. It must span numerous different types of systems--Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard and IBM as well as Windows servers from many different companies. And it must be simple enough to install that it will provide the cost savings Sun has promised.

MacKay said N1 would provide enormous financial benefits by increasing the work companies can extract from equipment in their computing "data centers."

Sun is setting very high expectations for the cost benefits of N1, but "you can't get people to change unless you give them a very big carrot," Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said.

Sun's promised eventual cost benefits probably are achievable in five years, but customers could be persuaded by smaller gains earlier. "You don't have to get to (100-fold cost savings) to make it valuable," Eunice said.

Server processor utilization will increase from about 15 percent in a typical data center to 80 percent with N1, he said. The company says that a single administrator will be able to control 100 terabytes of storage space instead of 1 terabyte, while a team of server administrators will be able to govern 500 servers instead of 30.

N1 competes with IBM's autonomic computing initiative and Hewlett-Packard's Utility Data Center product.

Sun has been working on N1 for months but said it will need to acquire companies to get the job done in time. Toward that end, Sun announced an agreement to purchase Pirus Networks, whose hardware and software lets storage systems be joined into a single pool.

The first phase of N1 will be "available toward the end of the year," MacKay said. Sun will have completed its "N1 virtualization engine," a device to shield programs from the physical details of underlying hardware, by that time. Virtualization lets similar equipment such as storage systems or servers be pooled together.

By the middle of 2003, Sun will release its "provisioning engine," which will control how computing services such as a customer relationship database are spread across a virtual computing environment.

In 2004, Sun will release "metering and telemetry" components that will monitor how N1 components are working, a key part of assuring that response times for different services are up to standard, MacKay said.

Sun also announced partners that will participate in the effort. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, EDS and Deloitte Consulting will help install N1 technology. Software companies Oracle, BEA Systems, BMC Software, Computer Associates and i2 will jointly develop N1 products with Sun. And Cisco will work with Sun on folding networking hardware into N1.

N1 will manage Unix, Linux and Windows servers, MacKay said.

Software won't have to be altered to run atop the N1 infrastructure, he added. "A design requirement on N1 is that it operates with all the existing stuff," he said.