Project names at computer companies are usually appealing and sexy. Then they often turn dull when projects are completed and products are released. Two examples: IBM's Regatta became the p690 Series while the Sun's Starfire is sold as the Enterprise 15000. Not that fun, isn't?
Anyway, for its new technologies to come, Sun Microsystems didn't choose very sexy names. V1 is about systems and architectures (Sparc processors, clustering), H1 is about platforms ( Cobalt, Linux/Solaris, blades) and S1 about storage. And N1? It's a network operating system.
There are not many public documents so far. You might want to take a look at a presentation done by Robert Youngjohns, Vice President, EMEA, Global Sales, Sun Microsystems. It's called "Sun Strategy and Direction." For *details*, go directly to pages 17 and 22.
Erick Schonfeld wrote a long story about N1 for the September 2002 Business 2.0 Issue. It's called "Computing to the Nth Degree." Here are some highlights.
Sun Microsystems is betting its future on a radical new technology called N1. If it works, it could revitalize the troubled Silicon Valley pioneer -- and change the way the world thinks about computing.
Until now Sun has spoken about N1 only sparingly and in broad strokes. Many of its details are still under wraps. For the moment, think of N1 as a kind of operating system for computer networks -- and Sun's approach to solving one of today's great business quandaries: the mind-boggling complexity of the typical corporate data center.
The closest thing Sun has today that hints at N1's power sits in a glassed-in room at a server ranch in Sunnyvale, Calif. Nearly 2,000 servers with nicknames like Bonanza, Hoss, and Lena purr on a raised floor. The floor is perforated, like the surface of an air hockey game, which allows cold air to pass up and replace the heated jets blasting out the back of each machine. But the truly hot technology -- and what gives the scene its N1 flavor -- is that the power of every single one of those servers is pooled so that their 7,500 processors can be used as one huge computer. Even the workstations on the chip designers' desks have to contribute one of their two processors to the collective pool. On average, 98 percent of the processors in the network are humming at any given time -- three to five times the chip utilization rate of most corporate data centers.
"N1 is the blueprint for the next 20 years," says chief hardware engineer Steve McKay, who now oversees the technology. He chose Yousef Khalidi to run the N1 team.
As the team's understanding progressed, Khalidi discovered that there were dozens of groups at Sun that already addressed parts of the problem. For instance, the storage engineers were working on storage "virtualization." Another product group was developing low-cost "blade" servers that look like baby N1s.
Khalidi found a third predecessor to N1 in grid computing. (Grid computing does some of what N1 promises, but N1 also encompasses storage and networking gear and can shift resources on the fly, which grids can't do.)
[When it's completed,] N1 will manifest itself as software embedded in other products. Additionally, during the next couple of years, Sun will launch some stand-alone N1 products, such as systems management software for network administrators and a management blade server. To most customers, though, N1 will be invisible. It will just be stitched into the fabric of everything Sun does. And it will be compatible with the systems that customers currently have, whether they run on Sun technology or a rival's. Of course, Sun says, N1 will work best on its machines.
Meanwhile, Sun rivals are attacking the same problems as N1 from different angles. HP already offers data center management software with some N1-like features. And IBM's ambitious Eliza project is trying to create self-healing, self-managing networks. As Sun's chief marketing officer, John Loiacono, puts it: "Somebody is going to solve this problem. If it is not Sun, it will be someone else."
Eliza is a nice name. N1 is not. Will the name change? Probably not.
Source: Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0, September 2002 Issue
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