Sun delays software tools on midrange servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. has delayed the release of one of the key software features on its midrange server line, saying the tool that adds mainframe-like features to the company’s hardware will not be out until next year.

In March, Sun celebrated the launch of its new Sun Fire servers, claiming it had brought traditionally expensive mainframe-class software tools down to its cheaper midrange line. A number of the software features were centered around Sun’s dynamic reconfiguration technology, which lets users make a variety of changes to servers on-the-fly, including altering the size of partitions or adding CPU (central processing unit) power.

During the March launch, Sun said the dynamic reconfiguration tools were “standard features,” of midrange servers, but the company is now saying the software will not be on those systems until the first quarter of 2002 and on the high-end Sun Fire 15K until the second quarter of next year, said Chris Kruell, group marketing manager for computer systems at Sun.

On the company’s Web site, Sun does point out that these features are not actually standard on servers shipping today but instead will arrive by year end. Users, however, have to read the fine print on the Web site to find out this information. Sun marked the technology’s availability using an asterisk to point to a small notice on its midrange server home page.

“It is not like (users) won’t get it,” said Laura Schmidt, a Sun spokeswoman. “It is there; it is just not available.”

Sun will distribute the dynamic reconfiguration tools to customers via quarterly updates to its Solaris operating system. Users will be able to download the updates or request a CD-ROM, Kruell said.

Sun does have the dynamic reconfiguration technology currently available on its older high-end Enterprise 10000 server and uses that to claim an advantage over rival IBM Corp. IBM will not have dynamic partitions available until the second half of next year, according to an IBM spokeswoman.

The ability to alter partitions and replace internal components of servers on-the-fly is something users have been waiting for because the technology makes it easier to divide workloads, run several applications on a single server and add hardware components as needed. With different applications running on one piece of hardware, companies can move toward consolidating servers, said George Weiss, vice-president and research director at Gartner Inc.

Users echoed Weiss’ sentiments, saying they are looking forward to the technology’s arrival, but they also said the delays will not likely change plans to roll out applications on the servers.

“Dynamic reconfiguration is definitely important to me,” said Michael Douglass, chief systems engineer at Texas Networking Inc. in Austin. “The ability to change things on the fly will always be important.”

Most users and Sun resellers interviewed did not express much dismay over Sun’s delays with dynamic reconfiguration, saying they must often wait for software promised in advance by vendors, especially given the lengthy development cycles involved.

“I don’t think there is a lot of confusion among users,” said Jim Hall, president and chief executive officer at hardware seller Marathon International based in Sunnyvale, California. “People in the market place are very smart, and they read between the lines.”

“There is not a lot of talk about dynamic reconfiguration yet because it is not really there,” he said. “Will it be important in the future, you bet.”

Eagerness to announce technology is common as companies battle to gain an edge over their competitors, Gartner’s Weiss said.

“Sun could be and should be held accountable here, but this is not exclusively the workings of one vendor,” Weiss said. “It is getting to be more problematic in the industry. I think the vendors are under pressure to announce as early as possible.”

The delay by Sun is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on companies looking to roll out applications. Customers might just buy Sun Fire systems now to test the servers out, Weiss said. When the dynamic reconfiguration arrives, they will then have a good understanding of the server and be able to take advantage of the new features, he said.

Sun, in Palo Alto, Calif., is at