Sun continues effort to boost IT services unit

Sun Microsystems executives Tuesday outlined a series of steps that the company's IT services unit is taking as part of an ongoing effort to make itself more competitive with the services operations at IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP).

During a press briefing, company officials said that Sun Services recently combined its managed services and utility computing operations under a single executive. That move is aimed at using utility computing installations to boost the adoption of data center services built around Sun's N1 resource management technology, they said.

Sun also plans to expand its IT services offerings into areas such as managed network security and analysis of software code for corporate users that want to improve their applications. Patricia Sueltz, executive vice president of Sun Services, gave the unit's current services portfolio a C grade. "We've got a ways to go," she said.

In addition, Sun Services has begun working more closely with the company's sales force to prepare bids and design system installations for customers. Sueltz said that's part of a strategy to make the services organization more of a general contractor on IT projects, along the lines of what IBM and HP do.

However, Sun is taking a much different approach to delivering services than its two larger rivals. The company just began an overt managed services marketing push last April, and its services workforce is far smaller than those of IBM and HP. As a result, Sun Services is focusing on technology-driven remote management capabilities and contracts that stop short of full IT outsourcing.

"We're really going to show how you can use technology to run a services business," Sueltz said. "If someone wants me on-site, I'll be there. But I think a lot of this will be done through remote network operations centers." Users dealing with Sun retain control of their IT systems and staffs, she added.

Sun's approach suits Justin Shaffer, director of operations at MLB Advanced Media, a New York-based company that runs the Internet operations of Major League Baseball and all of its teams. MLB Advanced Media runs its Web sites on Sun Solaris servers and uses Sun's Web server software, and Shaffer said his staff is working with Sun Services on a variety of technical improvement projects.

"We retain the architectural control, but we almost have an extra set of eyes and hands," Shaffer said, adding that he and his workers can bounce ideas off of Sun's services personnel in order to "see if we're doing the right things."

Shaffer said he prefers that kind of relationship to one in which an IBM or HP come in and take over management of his systems. "Yeah, I probably wouldn't get fired for choosing them," he said. "But I don't think I'd have the chance to do some of the things as quickly as we do now."

However, IBM and HP also give users the option of retaining control of their installations, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Everybody offers managed services," he said. "It's just that in Sun's case, if somebody wants to do outsourcing, they have to turn to one of its partners."

Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates, said Sueltz has made progress in converting Sun Services from a hardware maintenance organization to "a true consulting-services business" since she took over the unit 18 months ago. But Hurwitz added that Sun still can't match the breadth of services capabilities that users can get from IBM and HP if they aren't Sun-oriented shops. "Right now, I see them as just being in a different league," she said.

Tom Berghoff, vice president of advanced services at Sun, said the company will use both internal offerings and deals with other vendors to increase its managed services portfolio. For example, Sun plans to team up with a network security services provider, Berghoff said, adding that he expects to sign a partnership agreement as early as this week.

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