Sun to offer ‘shrink-wrapped’ network configurations

Fulfilling another component of the company’s iForce Initiative, Sun Microsystems Inc. next Tuesday will bring its long-awaited FTR (Floor Tile Ready) program to market, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Sun’s FTR program gives customers the ability to order complete, top-to-bottom network infrastructures that are preconfigured, pretested, and can be deployed and running, in some cases, within 24 hours.

FTR systems ship with all the Sun products needed to operate an enterprise-class computing or e-business network, including software applications, servers, storage devices, network cabling, switches, SLAs (service-level agreements), and even hardware racks, depending on the specific requirements of the customer.

In development for more than a year, Sun’s FTR program is part of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s iForce Initiative, which calls for standard, reference, and certified system configurations that are “plug-in ready” for Sun customers. FTR adds an application layer to the three preconfigured offerings, according to Sun.

The fine-tuned nature of preconfigured FTR systems delivers improved performance to Sun customers. A recent FTR deployment within the IT network of America Online Inc. returned a five- to sevenfold improvement in system availability, according to a Sun source.

Managed Internet hosting company Digex Inc., headquartered in Laurel, Md., is also utilizing Sun’s FTR program, according to Digex. Using the FTR program, Sun is preconfiguring servers with Digex’s standard operating environment, speeding deployment.

Preconfigured, or “shrink-wrapped” network configurations are already offered by companies such as Dell Computer Corp., with its High Availability program, and Hewlett-Packard Co., with its E-utilica program. Experts agree that such programs help companies like Dell and HP to not only deliver preconfigured, fine-tuned systems to customers more rapidly, but to also ensure that customers buy all their network components from a single vendor.

Sun, however, is a proprietary technology company, and its customers are, in a very real sense, locked into the company’s proprietary UltraSparc-based hardware and Solaris operating system. The threat of a mixed vendor environment hardly exists for Sun, leaving some analysts puzzled as to the real message behind FTR.

Neil Strother, an analyst specializing in e-business infrastructures at Cahners In-Stat Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., thinks FTR could potentially be the way for Sun to lower its prices during a period of sluggish IT sales through volume discounts without publicly announcing across-the-board price decreases.

“Maybe [FTR] speaks of a larger issue of IT spending dollars, which are way down,” Strother said.