Utility on tap for 2004

In the year ahead, Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. will bolster their utility-computing initiatives by upgrading key products.

Sun plans to update its Sun Grid Engine as well as its services-provisioning offerings, which will include tighter integration between the Solaris operating system and the N1 provisioning software, according to David Nelson-Gal, vice-president of N1 systems at Sun.

Nelson-Gal explained that Solaris 10 will include a feature called “zones” to ensure that any applications competing for Solaris resources will not cripple one another in the process.

Sun will also try to improve its utility computing fortunes via the tools route. Last month company officials said they plan to deliver an SDK intended to knit the company’s virtualization software more closely to Sun’s hardware and management software. This SDK should enable systems-management and security products from third parties to more easily share data and system performance information with N1-based systems.

“In 2004 we will place emphasis on services and managing multitiered services. You’ll see significant improvements in customer productivity and in utilization levels customers get from the resources they already have,” Nelson-Gal said.

IBM will also focus on utility computing next year, particularly within its services business. At its PartnerWorld conference in February the company is expected to debut its On Demand Innovation Centers. Similar to its WebSphere technical centers, the new centers will afford users and developers the chance to test their products separately or test them with IBM’s existing On Demand products.

Early next year Big Blue will upgrade the Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator with additional bundled services offerings designed to better automate large data centres. The company will continue to incorporate virtualization technologies into its flagship server software products.

The company intends to incorporate autonomic capabilities into DB2 and associated content management products next year. Autonomic technologies, those that carry out a range of self-healing and self-managing functions, are key building blocks in IBM’s On Demand portfolio.

“We will be driving autonomic capabilities into DB2 that can help ease administration and lessen the technical burden among corporate and third-party developers,” an IBM spokesperson said. “Next year will be about building information management infrastructure and content management.”

Similarly, HP will continue to push its Adaptive Enterprise initiative in the coming year. The company intends to shift the focus on some of its work in the more technical or high-performance computing markets to the commercial markets, particularly in the area of grid computing via its virtualization technologies.

To that end, HP last month took the wraps off new technology that better virtualizes desktops by pushing computing power and management capabilities out of the data centre and down to blade servers that can better mange desktop compute cycles.

“Our grid services practice, which started in the high-performance technical space with large-scale clusters, is now growing incrementally in the enterprise space. We will combine in some capabilities from the enterprise practices with the grid practices,” said Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and utility computing at HP.

While the Big Three are making plans for the upcoming year, some analysts think the companies need to better articulate their vision. Failing to do so, they say, will delay serious utility computing projects among corporate users.

“There is a certain amorphousness, along with inherent generalities, in their respective visions,” said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Illuminata.

But the utility computing visions of the Big Three may continue to crawl along in 2004. Last month, for instance, IDC predicted that during 2004 utility computing would be relegated to “futility computing” and expects IT investments in it to be modest. Some predict that confusion among users will reign. However, IDC also said that it expects IBM, Sun and HP to sharpen their utility computing messages and present more defined road maps by year’s end.

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