Sun peels back more N1 layers

Sun Microsystems recently made some announcements about its N1data-center management plan.

Admittedly broader than storage, N1's grand vision is to virtualize thedata center - systems, network switches and just about everything elseinside what was once called the "glass house." Once virtualized,everything becomes a giant pool of resources that can be deployedhowever the customer wishes. The idea is to manage the data center asone large entity, instead of having to worry about individual operatingsystems, boxes and arrays. Simplification is the goal.

Originally introduced as a concept in February, Sun's starting toprovide more details about how it plans to do all this. Steve MacKay,Sun's Vice President for N1, recently briefed a group of journalists andanalysts.

At the end of the day, MacKay said, customers will be able to manage"hundreds" of servers per administrator, where today the typicalcustomer can manage perhaps 15 to 30.

"With this new kind of system, we're talking about real breakthroughimprovements," he said. "Our customers tell us that three-quarters oftheir IT budgets go for maintaining what they've already got and onlyone-quarter goes toward buying new stuff. We want to help them reducecosts, use more of what they've already got and buy more stuff, so theycan improve their time to delivery."

The first step in N1 is virtualization, the second will be provisioningand third will be policy automation. Sun promises that customers won'tneed to revamp their existing architecture - at least not yet - becauseN1 pieces will work with what they've already got.

The virtualization part will be done in the first half of 2003. Key tothis are two recent Sun acquisitions - Terraspring and Pirus.

Terraspring is a graphical tool for setting up an IT infrastructure. Acustomer drags and drops icons for servers, storage and other things - then hits an "apply" button to make it all happen. For its part, Pirusmakes an "intelligent" storage switch.

Sun is using the Terraspring engine as the N1 Control Plane. Think ofthe Control Plane as a virtual computer backplane into which everythingin the data center connects. For its part, the Pirus engine will be thestorage-specific virtualization piece of this.

Some N1 customer pilots have already started on the Terraspring side,MacKay said, with Pirus pilots beginning soon.

Next up will be provisioning, at both the service level and applicationlevel, for mid-year. The third piece will be policy-based automation,coming in 2004.

This multi-year rollout from Sun will be delivered to existing datacenters through its consulting and services organization, and to newcustomers via an N1-based blade system that Sun's also delivering in2003.

If I were an existing Sun shop, much of this would sound very appealing.

And although I do believe that this is the way storage - and all otherIT resources - will be managed in the future, I'm hard-pressed tobelieve that anyone other than Sun customers will want to buy into N1wholesale. We'll see.

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