Terraspring Gives Sun's N1 a Boost

Purchase of software firm gives vendor key data center optimization technology

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s recent purchase of privately held Terraspring Inc. gives Sun immediate access to some key technology components needed to execute its emerging N1 strategy for data center optimization, analysts said.

It also gives Sun ownership of a company in which rival Hewlett-Packard Co. was an investor and whose technology HP has used in its own Utility Data Center (UDC) offering.

Sun announced the acquisition of Fremont, Calif.-based Terraspring in a cash-for-stock transaction earlier this month but didn't disclose further details. Founded in 1999 by former Sun executives, Terraspring develops software to automate the creation and configuration of server farms.

The company's virtualization software allows administrators to use browserlike interfaces to create and manage virtual server farms from a common pool of server, storage and networking resources.

Critical Capabilities

Such capabilities are crucial to Sun's N1 initiative, said Andrew Schroepfer, an analyst at Tier 1 Research in Plymouth, Minn.

Under N1, Sun is delivering technology and services aimed at helping corporations better manage and utilize their data center computing resources. Terraspring will provide the first deliverable technology under this initiative, Schroepfer said. With it, users will be able to pool and share data center resources as Sun has been promising under N1, he said.

"N1 has been more of a vision from Sun than anything else up to this point," Schroepfer said. "This gives them a tangible piece of software that they can sell."

Sun will make a series of announcements based on its Terraspring technology over the next few weeks, according to a company spokesman. "The acquisition was a coup for us. It gives us a leg up on the competition," he said.

An HP spokeswoman last week sought to downplay the company's Terraspring connection and claimed that Terraspring was only one of many third parties HP worked with in developing UDC. She declined to elaborate on the extent to which HP has used Terraspring technology in UDC.

"UDC draws upon many elements from HP's own portfolio and from third parties," the spokeswoman said. "We have access to third-party technologies, which we have enhanced through our own engineering efforts."

The Sun spokesman said that HP had been licensed to use only an early version of Terraspring's software and that its agreement doesn't extend to more recent versions.

Sun's move undoubtedly validates HP's approach and gives it a core technology in its N1 strategy, said John Abbot, an analyst at 451.com Inc. in New York.

But expect Terraspring technology to find initial appeal only in "greenfield" sites rather than legacy sites because of the data center rewiring required for Terraspring software to work, he added.

Sun's move underscores the accelerating efforts by hardware vendors to gain an early lead in the emerging market for infrastructure optimization technologies, said John Madden, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc. in Boston.

"This is just the latest example of major systems vendors attempting to move ahead on projects that they see as tied to the future of computing," Madden said.

Apart from HP and Sun, IBM is also working on similar data center optimization technologies with its autonomic computing initiative. So too is Dell Computer Corp., which in April announced a partnership with Jareva Technologies Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., to enable remote provisioning, deployment and configuration of servers.

What’s Next?

Sun will roll out its N1 initiative in three phases:

NEXT MONTH:

It will start N1-enabling its hardware, storage and network products.

2003:

It will deliver services-provisioning software for automatically allocating resources to applications based on service needs.

2004:

It will start to deliver the final policy-automation piece.
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