Sun chases network inflection point

Sun Microsystems is attempting to expand the definition of its self-styled "network is the computer" moniker.

According to Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos, a rise in the number of autonomous devices residing on a network coupled with a decline in the cost of connecting these devices will create a point of inflection in network design.

In an interview at Sun’s NC (Network Computing) 03-Q2 release event last week, Papadopoulos said that Sun’s long-term vision is to build out a network infrastructure that accounts for the rapidly falling cost of connecting devices to the network.

"The network we’ve thought of (is used for) delivering content and services out to people at endpoints," Papadopoulos said. But as the cost of connecting autonomous devices to the network falls, computing infrastructures will need to account for the presence of these devices. "It’s really decoupling, saying, ‘Your data and your state and the processes you interact with are (from) the network.’ " Papadopoulos’ comments supported the launch of a raft of products last week, including Sun’s N1 Data Platform.

The platform aims to allow customers to manage multiple storage arrays as if they were a single, large system, allocating disk space to applications and databases as needed.

Still in pilot stage and due later this year, the N1 Data Platform sits between a company’s servers and storage equipment and includes software for grouping disks into logical units, dividing them into secure zones, and taking snapshots for data protection, company executives said.

Acquired last year from Pirus Networks, the platform is now designed to complement the first element of Sun’s N1 project -- a provisioning server that Sun acquired from Terraspring -- rolled out earlier this year, said Mark Canepa, executive vice president of the network storage group at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun.

Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy explained that technologies such as Gridware, Jini, and Jxta enhance client interaction with server-side computing. "The new modern client is going to have to be understood and contemplated by the whole infrastructure," he said.

David Freund, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata, described the vision as ambitious.

"(Sun) and IBM are the only two server vendors out to offer the entire stack -- short of the applications. They offer 80 percent of what commercial customers are going to need. The difference is Sun is positioning that very much as a platform. The bundling, the integration will be more intense. IBM intends to sell the pieces of the infrastructure on each server based on its role," Freund said.

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