Sun shines on central office

Sun Microsystems Inc.’s latest push into the telco space should make it easier for enterprises to get so-called “intelligent” services such as e-commerce and better service level agreements (SLAs), according to Sun officials and a potential carrier customer eyeing Sun’s newest wares.

The technology behind the superior SLAs and simpler-to-deploy “smart” services is the Netra ft 1800 server, a US$160,000-to-US$358,000, fault-tolerant box designed for the telco central office. Based on Sun’s UltraSPARC chip sets and running Sun’s Solaris, the ft 1800 is NEBS-certified and, according to Sun, offers more than 99.999-per-cent availability.

Albert Silverman, vice-president of AT&T Canada’s Internet Services Group, said he would seriously consider acquiring an ft 1800 box.

“In Canada, we distinguish ourselves by the services we offer to our customers. Sun comes to us and asks if we’d be interested (in the ft 1800). Clearly yes, because the name of the game is services…and if customers want a service, it’s got to be mission critical.”

Silverman’s group currently hosts such mission-critical applications as bookseller Chapters Inc.’s on-line storefront and e-commerce site. The Internet Services Group has made sure Chapters and its other customers remain up and on-line by architecting around the lack of fault tolerance and, in Silverman’s words, “expending a small fortune.”

“This announcement is important to anyone who wants to deliver service level guarantee-type services to customers,” he said. “Up until now, we’ve had to build in our own redundancy.”

According to Sun officials, the ft 1800 will go up against servers from the Tandem unit of Compaq Computer Corp. and the Carrier Signaling and Management Unit of Ascend Communications Inc. The Ascend unit consists of Stratus Computer Inc.’s telecom assets which Ascend picked up last year.

The big advantage Sun feels it has over these competitors, and the reason why Sun believes enterprise users will be able to deploy intelligent services more easily, is that it is simpler to search out Solaris developers than it is to track down Tandem or Stratus developers.

In the Canadian market, the ft 1800 could be a fine fit for ISPs, noted Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Jordan Worth.

“This device, I imagine, would give them the flexibility to deploy new services quickly and because they’re a lot more flexible than the telcos…this device may give them an advantage in time to market,” he said.

While the ft 1800 is geared towards the telco space, Sun officials said they’ve received a lot of interest from enterprises looking for fault-tolerant servers to run mission-critical applications. However, in the short term, Sun plans to concentrate its efforts around the ft 1800 on the telco market only.

The ft 1800 isn’t Sun’s first product designed for use by telco providers. The firm’s Netra t and Netra st servers began appearing on carrier premises last year. But neither series has the same fault-tolerant capabilities as the ft 1800.

In addition to the ft 1800, Sun announced new partners in its Java in the Intelligent Network (JAIN) initiative and a new version of its Solstice Enterprise Manager.

Announced last year, JAIN is a telecom networking application development framework built around Sun’s JavaBeans component architecture. The latest JAIN gains are IBM Corp., Bellcore and Trillium Digital Systems Inc.

Meanwhile, the newest Solstice Enterprise Manager, Version 3.0, offers a suite of Java tools designed to allow rapid deployment of applications. The product lists at US$15,500 and will be available this quarter.