McNealy Says Sun Moving Toward Always-On Net

The always-on Internet is akin to the pervasive dial tone we get when we pick up the telephone handset and the infrastructure for such ubiquitous connectivity is the primary focus of Sun Microsystems company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy said during his keynote interview Tuesday with Gartner Group analysts at the market researcher's ITxpo conference.

Sun is working on what McNealy referred to -- repeatedly -- as the "BFWTS," the "big freaking Web tone switch." The BFWTS apparently means an "integrated, scalable architecture that is always up" and that operates on open standards. As always, McNealy was flippant in some of his responses, picking at competitors including, of course, arch-nemesis Microsoft, but also reserving jabs for Intel and its IA-64 chip, as well as what McNealy views as that company's lack of focus.

Noting that Intel has a camera on the market, McNealy said that Sun is sticking to its focus and its mission: "We're delivering that Internet infrastructure everyone wants." As such, Sun will spend $US2 billion to $US2.5 billion on research and development over the next 12 months, McNealy said.

McNealy bristled at the suggestion from analysts who questioned him during his keynote interview that the UltraSparc line from Sun has grown "a little long in the tooth." Calling that assessment "a little unfair," McNealy said, "The only thing long about UltraSparc now is the lead times because our back order is so long."

The company will move that line over to the recently announced UltraSparc 3 in the next nine months, McNealy said, adding that another of Sun's goals is to avoid making obsolete the base of customer's computer systems with each new upgrade.

"You don't worry about upgrades to the telephone switch," he said, calling on an analogy he used throughout his keynote interview, likening the Internet of the future to telephone service in that when we pick up our telephone handsets the dial tone is ever present. It should be that simple with the Internet, he said.

As part of that movement, users of technology should be less focused on specific pieces of software, McNealy said, pointing to software used to operate automobiles, which he referred to as "iron wrapped" rather than shrink wrapped. That software is a key component of the automobile and isn't something users think about separately.

"When was the last time you bought left-blinker software," McNealy said, adding that he has been advocating for some time now that "software is a feature, not an industry."

Reaching that state overall, though, where software functions as a set of features in the hardware "is a nontrivial engineering task," he said, using Sun's architecture server and the effort to get it to work well around the Solaris operating system as an example.

"That's our goal," McNealy said, "to get it dial-tone ready."

To accomplish that, Sun has embarked on a broad quality initiative to get products to market faster and to be more responsive to the needs of customers who can't afford downtime. In some cases, it truly is a matter of life and death as Sun servers are used in emergency 911 systems, for instance.

Another issue, though, is that the company has grown so much that by June of 2001, half of the employees will have been with Sun for less than two years, further making the launch of the 14 points in the quality initiative all the more important, he said..

McNealy said that he is turning down most requests to give speeches and interviews. "I'm spending all my time with employees," he said, adding that "I think this company will be a very different company two years from now."

The message he's giving employees and spreading throughout the company is simple: "The only thing that really matters is up time, up time, up time, up time and up time."

The ITxpo continues through Friday afternoon. More information on it can be found at http://www.gartner.com/.

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