Sun up?

I’ve been stopping by at Jonathan Schwarz’s blog pretty regularly. The whole pony-tailed-suit-wearing-uber-geek think is odd when you meet him, but I like his in your face style. He’s no Scott McNealy (Scott is way more direct, quite a lot more personal and often quite funny – I remember him once doing a presentation where he used a projector and marker pens to draw his slides as he talked; the whole show was anti-Microsoft and at one point, he wrote “xbox” on a transparency and shouted out loud “see, they’re after your children!”), but he does say stuff that makes a lot of sense and, even when it doesn’t, provokes a debate at least.

The other day I was talking to a soon-to-be-promoted uber-geek/friend at Sun. I told him that I was still confused about what Sun was up to. Most people I know, in the technology world anyway, equate Sun with boxes. And, once they’ve made that statement, the next statement is that they’re going the way of Silicon Graphics. Many have been saying that or wondering it (me included) for a few years but they keep moving (aided, I am sure, by however many billion dollars in the bank – recently augmented by Microsoft who paid them $2 point something billion). The problem, I said, might be that everything else Sun does looks too much like a PR stunt – fantastic sounding pricing on software ($100/head in your organisation, independent of how many CPUs you run it on; $1 per CPU/hr on the grid etc). No-one gets that it seems. That coupled with no strong desire for anyone that I’ve come across to use the whole Sun stack of software (e.g. Websphere and Weblogic both seem to flatten iPlanet in comparisons) means that the economics sound great but look questionable. That’s my $0.02 anyway.

Anyway, back to Jonathan who, in his latest blog entry, says some stuff that resonated with me:

4. We’re not getting the message out about our newest hardware.
We heard this loud and clear – we need to shout from the rooftops about our newest x86 systems, app switches, storage and the upcoming Niagara systems. Got it.

(Maybe you’re not – but if that’s what you want people to talk about, probably best not to confuse them with headline-grabbing software pricing that swallows all the column inches that folks might talk about your hardware with instead?)

But the real home run statement for me was:

5. Web services may collapse under its own weight.
No one at the conference said this. Those are my words. I’m beginning to feel that all the disparate web service specs and fragmented standards activities are way out of control. Want proof? Ask one of your IT folks to define web services. Ask two others. They won’t match. We asked folks around the room – it was pretty grim. It’s either got to be simplified, or radically rethought.

(For the last couple of years I’ve listened to folks in government talk up web services and only a few diss them, notably the chief wizard on Gateway, Simon, who always said that web services were going to be more pain than good for a long time. As far as I know, the Government Gateway was one of the first web services to be made available anywhere in the public sector, anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean it was easy – and it was never clear how government would scale to 100s of web services offering 1000s of discrete operations. We could all see a scenario where, just like websites, there would be too many web services doing too little for too few people, but consuming vast amounts of money all the same.

Folks seem to have moved on from web services though and now talk about Service Oriented Architectures – something I understand even less and worry about even more. We know, from history, that whenever the technology industry needs to sell us more stuff, they change the paradigm and start inventing new words that us buyers have to translate and figure out and, ultimately, spend money on.

It’s been a neat trick for years and it looks like it’s being tried again. But maybe Jonathan is calling “uncle” on this one. There’s no money to be made here until it gets simpler to design, build, implement and *especially* secure and operate them.

Good stuff.

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