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Sun Rises on N1 Architecture

By Ryan Naraine (Send Email)
Posted Sep 20, 2002


Sun Microsystems will train the spotlight on its N1 distributed computing architecture, an ambitious initiative promising to help better manage computing resources. Sun Microsystems will train the spotlight on its N1 distributed computing architecture, an ambitious initiative promising to help better manage computing resources.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun, which has been quietly integrating N1 into architectural visions most of this year, is looking to focus on building data center operations out of the network, instead of out of a single box.

The N1 architecture - which has four components - is being styled as the answer for companies looking to manage groups of computers and networks as a single system. For instance, an enterprise customer can simply use the architecture to shift jobs from overloaded machines onto systems that are idle instead of purchasing new systems to add capacity.

Even without details, Gartner analyst Donna Scott believes N1 is significant because of the depth of the company's understanding of the distributed computing management problem.

"(This) raises Service Point Architecture to the next level," Scott said but cautioned that the strategy must include the ability to integrate with competitor Microsoft's Windows environments to be successful.

From a customer standpoint, Scott believes N1 has the potential in the long term to deliver value through an integrated architecture that runs alongside Sun's SunONE Web Services initiative.

At first glance, it appears N1 is a bit of a departure from Sun's bread-and-butter business of selling computer hardware. To be sure, Sun is basically restyling itself as a contractor that can tie hardware and software into affordable systems for enterprises.

But, Giga analyst Rob Enderle believes the bigger challenge for Sun is to convince customers that it won't walk in the door to push new hardware.

The big challenge is the credibility factor. For a hardware vendor to represent that they'll come in and not sell hardware is a steep burden of proof. Sun has to prove to these customers that they'll come in and do what they say they're going to do," Enderle said.

Enderle views N1 as a broad-based services play with a "pay-as-you-go concept" that offers flexible resources and real high-value for corporate clients looking for ways to save money.

"Most IT managers believe that most of the computing resources they purchase is left unused. This (N1) lets them make full use of all the available resources. This is much more than just server hardware and operating systems. This is Sun positioning themselves as a full solutions provider," Enderle added.

Instead of having to buy expensive hardware to add computing resources, Enderle said N1 would let Sun manage the way the existing resources can be used. "This should resonate fairly well with the customer base," the Giga analyst said.

Sun is selling N1 in a bundle (with a Sun server) or as a standalone product and analysts from Deutsche Bank say the company's long-term investment remains the webtone switch, which wraps the N1 architecture around the SunOne middleware around vertical computing platforms (SPARC/Solaris), horizontal computing platforms (Netra, Cobalt and Lintel) and storage (SAN, NAS and DAS).

Besides mainframes, the plan is for everything from Sun would be N1-enabled. The company also plans to introduce new blade products using N1.

Separately, Sun said it would build low-cost desktop PCs running on the Linux OS as part of its ongoing battle to cut into Microsoft's command of the PC market.

On the heels on Tuesday's expanded SunOffice giveaway to education ministries in Europe and Africa, Sun plan to build desktops running on Linux with cheap commodity parts. The desktops are expected to ship early next year.

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