12 December 2002 The first results of hardware vendor Sun Microsystems’ utility computing initiative will be available in the first quarter of next year, the company has promised, when it will release a new range of blade servers bundled with its N1 software.
The blade servers – ultra-thin, rack-mountable systems designed for data centres – will include virtualisation and management software that Sun acquired from software companies Terraspring and Pirus when it bought them in November 2002.
N1 is Sun’s take on utility computing, a concept that other server vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM are working on. “N1 represents the ability to provision computer, storage and network resources on the fly. As demand for a service goes up or down, N1 will adjust to the change automatically,” said Scott McNealy, Sun’s CEO.
Typically, according to analyst group Gartner, servers only use between 10% and 20% of their capacity. Utility computing aims to pool all of a data centre’s servers and storage capabilities so they can be redeployed on the fly as different tasks require more resources.
For example, web servers can become application servers or database servers during times of little web activity, saving the data centre owner from having to buy dedicated servers for particular tasks.
While HP and IBM have already released products that have utility computing capabilities, HP with its utility data center (UDC) and IBM with its Project Eliza autonomic computing initiative, the blade servers will be the first products available under the Sun N1 banner.
The N1 blade servers will be able to appear as a single resource to the management and virtualisation software included with servers. Together, they will be capable of fulfilling as many tasks as their combined resources can manage, Sun claimed.
The virtualisation capabilities present in these servers, however, will only be a subset of the final capabilities envisioned in the N1 roadmap. According to Charles Andrews, director of product and technology solutions at Sun, the company will add extra capabilities to N1 in the subsequent two quarters.
The second quarter of 2003 will bring support for more platforms, while the third will produce policy-driven automation of redeployment, so that IT managers will only have to set up priorities and schedules for tasks and the systems will do the rest of the work themselves.