The short answer to that question is `very’. But the slightly longer answer is `only up to a point, Lord Copper’.
Following on from HP’s launch of its C-Class Blades, using a new architecture, Sun has joined in with the lunch of a new range of Opteron-based Blades, collectively known as the Blade 8000 modular system, built to yet another architecture. I don’t plan to get into arguing the toss about which: Blade 8000, C-Class or IBM’s BladeCenter, is the best in architectural terms. This will always be an area for endless, unresolvable debates driven as much by prejudice – “IBM over my dead body/the only solution” (delete as applicable to you) – as they are by technical or economic efficacy.
I will just say, however, that I still think these Blade guys should get together and agree a real common architecture rather than preen and pose over which is `best’.
What is more to the point here is that Blades of whatever architectural orientation are little more than a clutch of diddy servers if there is not one other component in there as part of the mix. `Component’ is, of course, a rather demeaning description of what I have in mind, for it is the unavoidable need for reliable and comprehensive infrastructure management tools. Without this in place, an IT infrastructure made up of Blade servers is probably more of a mess than what it has been designed to replace. It might well be better for users to consider opting for a few of the new 16-way Galaxy data servers Sun has also announced.
The company’s track record here has been as the company playing catch-up to the likes of IBM, HP, BMC and CA. All of these have comprehensive – and growing – infrastructure management suites which go beyond the basic management and software provisioning of servers. This is largely where Sun lies with its N1 management tools.
The company is saying that N1 now includes comprehensive infrastructure lifecycle management, which can manage multiple systems across a datacentre, which is a move in the right direction. But in a world where the delivery of loosely-coupled, composite services running in virtualised datacentres built on several thousand discrete Blades, there may be room for doubt about its actual capabilities.
What is more, the very fact that N1 is now to be bundled with the Solaris 10 operating system, the PostgreSQL open source database, the Java Enterprise System and Secure Desktop in a package called the Solaris Enterprise System gives a pointer to where Sun sees the world – a very Sun-centric, Solaris-centric place. The real world of IT infrastructures is an inevitable melange of kit from all over – something old, something new, something borrowed (or at least open-sourced) and something (big) blue. Any virtualised datacentre environment is going to have to provide that range of service capability, and any management system worthy of the name must be able to manage anything the typical IT department will want to use.
If Sun wishes to be seen as a major player in the global IT infrastructure provision and management business these will be issues it must be seen, very publicly, to be addressing. For now it looks like it is painting itself into the corner of `we handle Sun servers best’, which will no doubt be music to the ears of Sun-centric IT shops. The rest of the world will, however, have moved on.
One last aspect of all this which could be of concern to IT managements is the fact that Sun has taken to the open source ethos with great enthusiasm. So the Enterprise System will be given away and company CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, has been quoted as saying that the challenge has been finding “the right mechanism to monetize the volume out there.”
When it comes to monetization the software may be free for a while, but the support will still cost. But his statement suggests that there is still some hidden, undetermined charge that could land on an IT manager’s desk at some (almost certainly) inconvenient moment. That may not seem like a good way to run a railway for many major enterprises.