Where’s the Network?

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The network is the computer” – Sun Microsystems

I concur. So where is it?

In the fine tradition of Good News/Bad News wrapups from the Sun analyst conference comes today’s note.

Sun’s been positive at this, their annual collecting of us analyst types, and from this vantage point they have reason to be. Though it hasn’t set the world on fire, progress towards righting the financial ship is evident. They went after – and got – Ian Murdock to effect change on Solaris. Which they also got. Solaris, via Indiana, is now accessible to audiences that would not have considered it previously. Which was timely, because two of the larger hardware vendors in Dell and IBM both decided to ship (and support it). As if that wasn’t enough, IBM also agreed to work with Sun on the OpenOffice.org project, an outcome that seemed doubtful once upon a time. And then there’s the pending MySQL transaction, which will be in my view profoundly transformative. Hell, even El Reg is calling them the premier open source vendor.

Clearly, the Sun folks have been busy, and in spite of forks in the eye like Dalvik, have generally had a year to be proud of. But lest they feel inclined to rest on their laurels, let’s ponder the future for a bit.

Will said future, for example, include a computing landscape largely dominated by four or five big computers – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and so on? And if it does, will Sun be one of those big computers, or merely a supplier?

Narrowly focused efforts like Network.com aside, Sun has to date shown little ambition to be the former. Which would worry me, because success with the latter assumes to some extent a reversal of the general preference among the big computer folks for non-premium, whitebox hardware. If there are going to be four or five big computers, and you don’t have a history of selling into them at volume absent significant subsidies, I’d consider that an issue.

As I’ve been saying publicly and privately for some time, I think it’s important – vitally so, in fact – that the vendor that coined the “network is the computer” tagline offer a network of its own.

Call it what you will – Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos does not care for the term “cloud,” preferring instead the venerable “network,” – it’s a trend with clear momentum and direction. Consider just the latest examples of EnterpriseDB, Zmanda, Red Hat and – yes – MySQL.

Success in technology is (typically) a function of volume, which is in turn a function of the barriers to entry. It’s all about barriers to entry, remember. Consider Solaris: the open sourcing of the codebase removed one barrier to entry. The changes wrought in Indiana yet another.

But the availability of a Sun cloud offering would remove a significant barrier to entry not only for Solaris, but the entirety of Sun’s hardware and software portfolio. Which is necessary, in my view, given the stated ambition for Sun to sell more directly and the continuing problem the channel represents to would be customers. What’s more direct, after all, than the type of credit card enabled push button procurement that Amazon’s EC2 and S3 offer?

In his closing remarks at the conference, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz told the gathered analysts to “watch this space in the next 12 months,” and I will dutifully keep my eyes peeled. Maybe between Project Caroline, Project Kenai, and Network.com we’ll begin to see some cloud infrastructure emerge. It would be a shame, after all, for the firm that first saw the potential for the network to become the computer not to realize its original vision, while others cement their future importance doing so.

Disclosure: EnterpriseDB, IBM, Microsoft, MySQL and Sun are all RedMonk customers. Amazon, Google, Red Hat, and Zmanda are not.


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