Sun outlines top-down data centre approach

SAN FRANCISCO — Describing it as a multi-year journey for Sun and the industry, Sun Microsystems Inc.’s vice-president of N1 outlined the company’s data centre vision in a morning keynote here Thursday.

Steve MacKay said

Sun’s N1 architecture inverts the traditional model of the network as a number of connected computers. Instead, “”The network is the system and the boxes are the components of that system”” — a vision that dovetails nicely with Sun’s “”the network is the computer”” mantra. Rather than individual machines, the network is the managed element, he says.

Rather than mapping specific business services to specific boxes in the data centre, the N1 architecture treats the machines as a pool of compute resources that can be soft-cabled to provide necessary applications and data. MacKay breaks the architecture into the foundation resources — computers, storage, switches, application, etc. — combined with a virtualization engine to pool those resources and a provisioning engine to map business processes to those resources. Telemetry monitors what’s going on in the system to ensure policies are adhered to.

The approach to provisioning is top-down, said MacKay. Business metrics — lookup time, buy time, number of concurrent customers — are defined first. Then the service is described in terms of number of tiers and foundation resources on which the tiers run. N1 generates the computing stack.

“”You have much more sharing than in the stovepipe world,”” MacKay says. This means efficiencies. MacKay suggested the possibility of 80 per cent more system utilization, and a 100-fold increase in the amount of data managed per database administrator.

Those numbers are a bit much, according to Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst and IT advisor with Illuminata. But a five-fold increase in manager productivity isn’t unthinkable, he said.

MacKay insisted N1 isn’t a “”rip-and-replace”” strategy — it will optimize existing resources. But that’s contrary to Scott McNealy’s comments Wednesday. When asked how Sun would make money giving away development tools, the company’s chief executive’s one-word answer was, “”servers.””

N1 may not be rip-and-replace, said Eunice, but the announcement of N1-integrated blade servers and the overall server consolidation message are. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“”What people are already doing is expensive,”” Eunice said. Server utilization is generally in the five to 25 per cent range. If a system is running at five per cent, “”theoretically, you could do a 20:1 consolidation,”” though practically, four to one is more likely, he said. Add the improvement in value-for-dollar in new equipment due to Moore’s Law — in performance, reliability and maintenance costs — and “”the entry cost stops being a factor.””

Sun’s late to the table with the vision, Eunice said — IBM Corp. has been preaching its comparable eLiza vision for almost 18 months — but “”they’re very crisp, very cogent, very engaging,”” he said. “”It’s just somewhat intensified and somewhat focused on the data centre,”” he said.

MacKay said the N1 virtualization engine should ready by the end of the year, with the provisioning engine available in the middle of 2003 and the policy automation engine in 2004.

Sun acquired storage virtualization company Pirus Networks Inc. as part of the N1 strategy, MacKay said.

From Sun to Cyberspace

Also at SunNetwork, chair of the United States’ President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board Richard Clarke was a surprise speaker at the conference. Clarke made a brief appearance during Sun chief security officer Whitfield Diffie’s morning keynote.

Clarke — who was at nearby Stanford University yesterday to release the draft of the National Stategy to Secure Cyberspace for public comment Wednesday — said it is unprecedented for the U.S. government to open up a strategy before presenting it to the president.

“”We’ve never done this with any national strategy before,”” he said.

The report identifies 17 objectives and 70 recommendations, and is available for comment at

In parallel, 12 sectors of the economy released their own strategy documents.

Clarke said it was critical for industry and public input on the strategy, as the government doesn’t have the expertise.

“”We recognize that the government neither owns nor operates most of the critical infrastructure of the U.S.,”” Clarke said. The expertise to secure the infrastructure lies with those who own and operate it, he said — the knowledge is in the daily issues staffers face, “”what you talk about over a beer at the bar.””

Clarke said security must move from a “”threat”” paradigm — wherein people wait for authorities to identify risks — to a “”vulnerability”” paradigm. Analyze dependencies out to the second or third order, find the vulnerabilities and protect them, he said.

“”We would make a very, very big mistake”” to assume that the level of cyber-security risk will remain the same, Clarke said. Security breaches cost U.S. companies $13 to $15 billion (US) last year.

Government and business will continue to rely on cyberspace, and cyberspace is vulnerable, he said.

“”It’s only a matter of time before someone uses (those vulnerabilities) against your company or country,”” he said.

SunNetwork wraps up Friday.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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