Sun’s CIO: How we got rid of 100 servers

TORONTO — The technology is just fine, it’s the soft stuff that keeps tripping us up, according to Sun Microsystems Inc.‘s CIO.

In an interview after an executive briefing, Sun CIO William Howard says the challenges are never


“I see it in my own organization. They do a terrific job on the technology…I’ll give them a nine- or ten-out-of-ten every time,” Howard said. “But when we get into trouble, it’s something that wasn’t done properly on the soft side. Either users weren’t trained, the proper testing wasn’t done before it went live or the data wasn’t cleaned up. It’s what I call the soft side.”

Asked about a number of recent failed enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations in North America, Howard, whose list of credentials includes a complete design and overhaul of an IT system while vice-president of IT at Inland Steel, said the same theory applies. “In every instance it could have been fixed. It’s the lack of attention to detail, the soft things.”

Sun recently completed a massive global ERP project itself by reducing more than 100 servers and 60 Oracle ERP applications across 55 countries down to a single server running one version of Oracle.

“We were getting rid of redundant applications, things that, over the years, grew up in silos,” says Howard.

In that particular case, technology was never a problem, but “getting developers, maintenance people and business users to agree to run in a shared environment was a major issue,” he said.

“Sun used to be a lot of different business units, and there was one server for every one application. It’s now one Sun supported by one IT organization,” he added.

Howard said the next big push will be increased efficiency especially as budgets remain tight and IT will be pressured to offer even more services.

One opportunity is making better use of server capacity.

“The typical utilization of servers around the globe is 15 per cent so you are seeing a tremendous push for server consolidation.”

This can be accomplished through “virtualization of the data center” whereby software is used to redistribute the processing load of a large-scale application such as ERP over a network of computers.

Sun is now working on a version of the operating system that will allow this capability.

“That’s the journey we will be on for the next five years,” he says.

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