Sun’s CEO touts utility computing, outsourcing

Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy at the SunNetwork conference in San Francisco last month preached the mantra of utility computing and lashed out at rivals who call his company’s technology proprietary.

McNealy also provided brief glimpses of advanced Sparc chips planned for 2004 and 2005 that include a doubling of performance. Ironically, Sun’s use of Sparc is what competitors use to pin a proprietary label on Sun.

McNealy in his keynote speech endorsed outsourcing of application services to service providers. He also panned the use of unique, site-specific computing networks and stressed that computing services should fade into the background in the manner of telephone switches, in a utility-like fashion.

“We’re going to move to this utility model,” he said.

“People are so geeky about their computers because we forced them to be. Because we didn’t make it easy, we didn’t make it a utility model,” said McNealy.

Service providers such as customer relationship management vendor provide an alternative to users taking on these applications themselves, McNealy said.

“You use their stuff and [they] charge you once a quarter based on how many transactions you did,” McNealy said.

He described what he called the four ways to buy a computing environment: build your own data centre like a custom “jalopy”; hire IBM Global Services to build your data centre, which McNealy described as outsourcing your custom jalopies; utilize inflexible reference architectures; and opt for a service provider. He termed service provider-based services “gift-wrapped software.”

McNealy also defended Sun against charges of being proprietary and gave a thumbs-up to the continued relevance of Unix.

Sun competitors have cited Sun’s embracing of Sparc as its primary chip architecture instead of the more pervasive Intel CPU platform. But McNealy noted that Sun does sell Intel-based systems and also gives users a choice between Linux and Solaris, owned or procured system models, servers and storage.

“There is choice across the board. Every aspect of what we do offers you choice,” he said.

Defending Unix, he cited its influence in areas such as Linux and high-performance computing as well as its continued usage.

“I love the fact that Unix is constantly considered a dead environment. For 20 years now, it’s been the Rodney Dangerfield of the computer industry,” McNealy said.

To boost its Sparc architecture, Sun in 2004 plans to introduce two core low- and high-end Sparc chips with 50 to 100 per cent performance increases. Following these chips in 2005 will be a multi-threaded, multi-core environment.

“This is truly server on a chip,” said McNealy.

McNealy also touted Sun’s US$1.8-billion annual research and development budget and disagreed with a contention from Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell that R&D is overrated.

“Mike Dell said R&D is overrated. That’s good that he believes that because we believe the opposite. Somebody’s right,” McNealy said.

“We’re investing like crazy throughout pretty challenging economic times,” he said. Sun’s R&D efforts also include acquisitions, he added.