Sun introduces Floor Tile Ready systems

Fulfilling another component of the company's iForce Initiative, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday began offering its FTR (Floor Tile Ready) program to the general public, according to Gary Beck, vice president of Sun's integrated products group.

In development for some time, Sun's FTR program gives customers the ability to order complete, top-to-bottom network infrastructures that are pre-configured, pre-tested, pre-assembled, and can be shipped, deployed, and running, in some cases, within 24 hours.

Configured from Sun's current product catalog, FTR systems ship with all the Sun gear needed to support anything from an enterprise-class computing or e-business network, to a simple server and storage infrastructure. FTR systems include software applications, servers, storage devices, network cabling, switches, service-level agreements, and even hardware racks, depending on the specific requirements of the customer.

"It's about addressing the total cost of ownership," Beck said. "If you analyze customers on their acquisition cycle, they spend a lot of their people resources bring in the hardware, as well as the cost of the hardware. FTR is about making the installation time shorter."

Instead of delivering multiple crates and boxes to a customer location to be assembled on site, FTR systems essentially arrive on one huge pallet, with servers and storage systems already mounted in racks with cabling secured in the proper manner. Required applications and even a company's IP address can be installed prior to shipping, leaving FTR customers with little to do but un-pack the system and plug it in, Beck said.

"Handling is the root cause for a lot of the issues that occur at the customer site. They get a system, they assemble it, turn it on, and stuff happens, and most [problems] can be traced to handling," he said.

In beta FTR deployments, Sun noticed an 80 percent reduction in non-live system problems, Beck said. Installation times were also reduced by 90 to 95 percent, he said.

"Before, we were on the order of 10 days [for installations], now it's typically a few hours," Beck said. "Customers don't have to spend their resources to do the more mundane things. [With FTR] we are taking those activities back into the factory."

While the FTR program delivers value to Sun's customers, Sun is an equal beneficiary, said George Weiss, vice president of research for servers and operating system with the Gartner Group Inc., an industry research firm in Stamford, Conn.

"[Sun] might argue that the cost for them to work with the customer and configure everything with days of engagement might be a cost burden that is more expensive for them in the long run than configurations that can be factory-installed and shipped and defined under a contract as opposed to delivering separate hardware and software and things that sometimes don't work out that well," Weiss said.

Although Beck stressed that the FTR program was completely user-centric in its intend, he did say there was a certain cost associated with onsite installations, a cost he charged competitor IBM Corp. with taking advantage of.

"They -- IBM -- build complexity into their systems, then bring in their services arm" to charge the customer additional dollars to solve any problems. Not so with FTR, Beck said.

The fine-tuned nature of pre-configured FTR systems delivers improved performance to Sun customers. A beta FTR deployment within the IT network of America Online Inc. returned a five- to sevenfold improvement in system availability, according to one industry source.

Managed Internet hosting company Digex Inc., headquartered in Laurel, Md., is also using Sun's FTR program, according to Digex. Using the FTR program, Sun is pre-configuring servers with Digex's standard operating environment, speeding deployment.

Pre-configured, or "shrink-wrapped" network configurations are already offered by companies such as Dell Computer Corp. with its High Availability program and Hewlett-Packard Co. with its E-utilica program. Experts agree that such programs help companies such as Dell and HP to not only deliver pre-configured, fine-tuned systems to customers more rapidly, but to also ensure that customers buy all their network components from a single vendor.

Sun however is a proprietary technology company, and Sun customers are in a very real sense locked into the company's proprietary UltraSparc-based hardware and Solaris operating system. So the threat of a mixed vendor environment hardly exists for Sun.

Sun's FTR program is part of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's iForce Initiative, which calls for standard, reference, and certified system configurations that are "plug-in-ready" for Sun customers.

Pricing for the FTR program, in addition to the cost of the hardware, software, and services delivered, runs approximately US$3,000 per system rack, regardless of how many devices are installed on to the rack.

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