Scott McNealy: It’s a Lego world

OTTAWA — For Scott McNealy, much of today’s IT industry resembles the automotive world of the 1920s.

IT companies are designing custom-built data systems that look like “”jalopies,”” says the chairman, president and CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc.

But that will

soon change, says McNealy, who Thursday predicted a “”massive standardization”” in the way technology is deployed and developed.

“”Imagine if a had an airplane hangar at home, I designed my own plane from different parts, and I told you to fly it. It wouldn’t be safe, yet that’s what we’re doing (in the high-tech sector),”” he told several hundred members of Ottawa’s IT community who were attending the technology executive breakfast organized by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI).

McNealy spoke to following the morning address. You’ve referred to today’s data centres as “”jalopies”” cobbled together from many different parts and have urged IT managers to standardize, but how do you alleviate their fears from being locked into only a few suppliers?

Scott McNealy: There’s going to be only a few suppliers and there already are only a few suppliers. There’s really only three answers. IBM Global Services, which I call unintegrateable. They say, “”It’s all integrateable, don’t worry your pretty little head. We’re take care of it, we’ll customize it, we have more mechanics than you’ll ever have, and we understand this technology.”” Sun provides integrateable, which means we’ll give you a car built our of Lego blocks that all fit together very nicely, and if you don’t like . . . our directory, take that Lego block out and put Novell in it, if you don’t like our storage, put EMC in it, if you don’t like our kernel, put Red Hat in there. Microsoft is the only other answer . . . that’s all welded shut. It’s like one big melted glob of plastic that you can’t pull apart. I think there should be more choices. There are none. The world needs and deserves more choices, but I think we’ll be stuck with three for quite a while until something else emerges. I don’t see Microsoft giving up and going away.

ITB: What kinds of technology expertise or products do you foresee having to acquire in order to keep N1 competitive against all the other companies in the utility computing space?

SM: We’ve thrown into the mix Genie and gone out and bought Pixo and CentreRun and those sorts of things. And then we brought in Solaris and Java. We’re building this whole infrastructure. We’ll continue to invent new pieces as well as buy little pieces. I’m not going to run those stock prices up before we go buy them.

ITB: Sun this year began releasing a synchronized set of pre-built hardware and software packages once a quarter. Is that any more reasonable than the old approach, given that IT purchasing cycles are stretching from three to five years?

SM: People are holding their cars three to five years now instead of buying a new one every year like they may have done in the old days because cars fell apart. But that hasn’t stopped the automobile industry from providing model upgrades (every year). The reason you do those upgrades is because you’ve got to get your entire supplier community and all of your engineers to go test-certify rollover crash tests, regression tests and certify that this product all works together. You don’t change the crankshaft one week, the piston ring the next week, and the dashboard the next week because then you have to get it certified every time you make any significant change. So they do the testing once a year, drive all the bugs out and eliminate all the interoperability issues. What do Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler do? They do integration engineering. That’s the primary thing. That’s what we do. So the IT buyer doesn’t have to buy our spring, fall or summer release. They can, every three years, buy something that’s been tested and certified in a very simple way.

ITB: A lot more infrastructure management is being introduced at the software level. How much control do you think IT managers are willing to relinquish to automation, and what needs to happen in order to accelerate that transition?

SM: If you step back, how much telephones switch administration control and management are CIOs willing to relinquish to Bell Canada? All of it? So Bell Canada wants to be able to control and manage their network with really great tools that Nortel supplies them on how to set up circuits, re-route . . . but the service provider wants to have those tools. CIOs want to get out of the business of being chief infrastructure officer and chief integration officer, and want to spend more time being chief information officer. We do the integration. Bell Canada, Telus or AT&T manages the infrastructure. CIOs ought to be focusing on the information. How do you add, delete and modify all of the profiles of everyone in your online directory? It is fascinating to me that the CIO is focused on first order bits instead of the primary order bits.

ITB: People compare the pricing models of utility computing to a monthly bill, but aren’t there more variables than that? How do you make it simple and reasonable for customers?

SM: Simple, affordable and predictable. That’s it. We spend $700 million to $800 million a year on software development. And there it is, on a business-card sized (object). I don’t how much more affordable we can make it.

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