Sun expands on N1 utility vision

Sun Microsystems further explained its N1 computing initiative strategy last month, elaborating on what exactly it entails and when products bearing its name would appear.

N1 has generally been described as a heterogeneous architecture to provision computing, storage and networking resources and was first discussed in-house some four years ago. Fundamentally, two important changes have inspired this new approach to computing – the trend of applications becoming services-delivered across the network, and the evolutions in the quality and speed of networks, explained Steve McKay, vice-president, N1 and management systems at Sun Microsystems.

“These technology disrupters really allowed us to pursue the vision of N1, which is a new approach to the datacentre. We’re changing the definition and meaning of systems,” he said during a conference call. If the system was previously identified by the box or the computer, it is now seen as the system via the datacentre, where the network is morphed into the computer and the computer built out of the network.

“The data centre becomes the system and you really manage that and that’s the vision of N1,” McKay said.

In this approach, existing resources such as computers, storage devices, networking switches and routers, load balancers and firewalls would all be goods that organizations already have that Sun would be able to re-use to keep costs low.

Part of the N1 strategy revolves around allowing the datacentre to operate as a system and to turn the boxes into resources so that the services, and not the boxes, are managed.

There are three parts to the strategy, the first being virtualization, which is described as the turning of the boxes into pools of resources. This is expected to begin appearing in Sun products early this year, when one of the acquisitions made by Sun will begin bearing some fruit. Former infrastructure management software company Terraspring Inc.’s technologies will be pivotal in the first release of the N1 product line.

Stage two entails services provisioning or the automation of the software and hardware installation for new business service deployment, and should arrive in the middle of 2003. Phase three – policy automation, or the ability to manage the allocation of IT resources – should appear sometime in 2004.

While the vision, McKay said, is seen as a step towards “utility computing to being able to bill for services on demand,” Sun admits that its N1 strategy is still in its early days and the journey the company is on will take years to complete.