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CEO Visions: Toward Saner Computing

The best way to make things better for customers is to reduce complexity, Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy says.

We take our cues from our customers. What's important to them is important to us. So our No. 1 priority right now is saving them money. The best way to do that is by reducing complexity.

People are just absolutely going nuts with the complexity of the current computing environment. A recent study shows that about 10% of IT costs are hardware, 10% software, and the rest administration and training.

That's insane. We'd much rather our customers be able to spend that money on computing power, storage capacity, and increased bandwidth so they can do more of what they really want to do, whether it's finishing designs in half the time or discovering intricate patterns in complex data sets.

Today, a system administrator can manage between 15 and 30 systems; it should be 500. System utilization is around 15%; it should be 80%. It takes weeks to deploy a new network service; it should take days or even hours.

We need to fix those numbers, and we're working on it. An important first step is grid computing. Sun Microsystems powers about 6,000 grids today, and we're adding about 70 installations a week. These grids link departmental or enterprisewide resources, then allocate them according to business goals and priorities. In short, we're helping customers put computing power where it can do the most good.

The thing most people don't get about grid computing is that it's not just about increasing utilization, although 70% utilization plays really well in today's cost-conscious market. It's not about increasing availability either, although that's an important side benefit. The really cool thing about grid computing is that it allows companies to bring more processing power to bear on a given task than ever before possible.

What we're working on now is enabling customers to virtualize more of their resources--the servers, the storage, the networking--into a single, easy-to-manage pool. In our view, it should be no more difficult to launch a new network service than it is to run an application on a single computer today. It's just that, in this case, the network is the computer.

This is a major shift, the kind of fundamental advance that comes along maybe once a decade. It begins now and will continue over the next several years, encompassing not only virtualization, but also provisioning and policy automation. At the same time, it's an extension of the vision we've had for 20 years--the network is the computer--and the emphasis we've always placed on total cost of ownership.

Scott McNealy is chairman, president, and CEO of Sun Microsystems.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Hardware Company CEOs
Craig Barrett, Intel Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. Sam Palmisano, IBM
Michael Dell, Dell Computer Joe Tucci, EMC Corp.
Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard Dan Warmenhoven, Network Applicance Inc.

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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