Sun exec: Utility computing starting to evolve

As vice president of IT operations at Sun Microsystems, Jay Littlepage is in charge of the company's internal systems and the utility computing services it offers to corporate users. Littlepage spoke with Computerworld about utility computing from both the vendor's and users' viewpoints.

Q: How far along is utility computing in its development?

It's not mature at all. A lot of (vendors) are trying to define utility computing as logical extensions of what they've already done. Sun is no different; we view this as a logical extension of network computing. And in large part, because the industry is in its infancy, all of us are right in the way we're defining it. In the long term, it's going to be up to customer choice.

Q: How long do you think it will be before utility computing becomes a mainstream sort of thing?

If you define "mainstream" as the majority of users looking at this as the primary way of purchasing IT, I think it's probably five years.

Q: Have Sun and other vendors figured out how to price this yet?

There's utility pricing now, but it's very coarse pricing. Our Sun Power Unit (usage measurement) is defined as 1GB of storage or a 1-GHz CPU. That's not necessarily going to be the right measurement, depending on what your particular business process is. I'm running a series of (pricing) pilot programs internally that are designed to be more reflective of the specific business processes we have. Those should lead to more refined and relevant metrics.

Q: How long will it take to put those metrics in place?

The pilots started in March. We're in the analysis stage now, and they're all designed to be completed by September. But this is a journey. We're going to learn a lot out of the four pilots, some of which will result in new utility computing products from Sun and some of which will result in new pricing models. And some are going to turn out to be really stupid ideas.

Q: Is there going to be enough business for all the vendors that are targeting utility computing?

Sure there is. This is going to be much more closely correlated with demand (for IT resources), and that's going to be great for the marketplace.

Q: Great for users, or for vendors?

Ultimately, both. It's definitely going to be great for customers, because they won't have to overbuy. But it will be great for vendors that are really in tune with the needs of their customers, too. You're going to have good long-term relationships. It's a much healthier cycle than just selling them a box.

Q: Sun doesn't have the manpower or IT services track record that rivals like IBM and HP do. How are you going to compete against them in utility computing?

We're not going to compete directly with them in the same way they're trying to address the market. Our strategy has always been to solve the needs of customers without throwing a lot of people at problems, and there's still very much of a belief (at Sun) that that's the right way to provide services. We'll also rely on partners to help us. We don't do business process re-engineering, but we have lots of friends that do.

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