Marketing the System

I found the (brief) dialogue in Sunday's blog very intriguing, even if it was mostly between Sun employees (thanks Geoff and Kaiwai) :) Is Sun not doing enough to market our "systems-ness"? What can Sun do to better market one of our greatest assets - the System?

The timing for this dialogue is great because today's featured article at Sun.COM is on Sun's system-ness. If you were Andy Ingram in that article, what would you have emphasized more (or less) to capitalize on Sun's "system" assets?

Before this discussion, I had thought that Sun had done a pretty good job in this area. Every Network Computing event we have tends to focus on "the system" and its value. The "Java Enterprise System", the Java Desktop System, etc.

FYI, the next Network Computing event is November 15th and 12:30pm PST. You can watch it online.

To give you a quick data point on the value of a system, I was with some folks in the recent past who were using a specific version of Linux with a specific version of a driver for a 3rd party PCI card for that distro/version of Linux, running on a 3rd party server connecting 3rd party storage using yet another 3rd party file system (none of which is on our price list and every product was from a different vendor).

The effort they have to go through to get something to work is not trivial. They can't upgrade the old Linux kernel because 3rd party driver X isn't supported there yet. They also can't swap out for newer/faster/cheaper servers because the old version of Linux doesn't directly support it, and the effort to come up with a new kernel configuration is too time consuming (expensive). The roadmaps among all of these 3rd parties is completely inconsistent and moving forward is very difficult and labor intensive. These folks are somewhat locked in for the moment. This is currently the industry norm and it begs the question, is this really cheaper? Is this really more flexible?

Don't think I am picking on Linux because 1) This is a true story. 2) The same thing can happen with any operating system (sans kernel compilation) involved with many, many 3rd parties.

Deploying a Sun "system" (server/storage/filesystem/PCI cards/etc) gets the pieces better in sync as Sun is working diligently to get to a quarterly release cycle of our entire product line.


OK, Andy's article is a great example of the problem. If you read through it, the only Sun products that it calls out by name are the SunFire V490 and V890. (It mentions UltraSPARC IV, but that's a technology, not a product.) It doesn't mention Solaris. It doesn't mention Java or JES. And it doen't mention anything in the N1 space.

To me, "systemness" is about how Sun can offer systems solutions based on the harmonious and synergistic integration of our various products and technologies. The V890 is only a great product because it incorporates technologies that support, and are supported by, the features in Solaris. And while the V890 and Solaris provide a great generic POSIX platform, they should also be designed (tuned, configured) to provide exceptional support for Java and JES. Similarly JES ought to be optimized to take advantage of cool Solaris features such as Zones, which in turn ought to be supported by features in the V890 and UltraSPARC IV.

I have no personal insight into the degree of coupling, optimization, integration, synergy, and so forth that we've actually achieved between our various products. We'll always have the tension (both technical and financial) between conforming to multi-platform standards and optimizing for our own kit. Nonetheless if "systemness" means more than one-stop shopping, it should mean that we build products that are not generic, "me-too": they should allow us to build systems where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts because it's from Sun. We should be striving for, and selling, the "unfair advantage" that this can bring us.

Posted by Geoff Arnold on November 09, 2004 at 01:27 AM PST #

Andy does say:
So what "system-ness" refers to is everything that's required to optimize the environment. Not just the processors or the servers, but everything running together. The operating system. The databases. The storage. The middleware. The management tools. And so on. When you build the whole, you deliver something that's much better than the sum of the parts.

His Q&A is focused on one benefit of the systems approach: QoS. As an example, we improve QoS with minimal architectural change (v880 -> v890 and single-core -> dual-core) and minimal impact to the customer. We can do that because we own "the system." This is a very valid argument although we can add examples that span other parts of the "system" as well.

Posted by John Clingan on November 09, 2004 at 01:46 AM PST #

I overlooked a sidebar that read "Manage heterogeneous resources with N1 Grid Computing" Nonetheless, my argument stands.

I also noted, with curiosity, that the item refers to "secure, reliable operating system<u>s</u>". I suppose that the plural must refer to multiple versions of Solaris, but it's still a bit odd....

Posted by Geoff Arnold on November 09, 2004 at 02:12 AM PST #

I agree that Andy talks about what goes into a system, but he spoils it by tossing in "database", destroying the impression of a Sun systems value proposition. Of course if we ever get around to selling a data base... (I don't count Clustra, which may be unfair of me.)

More important is the problem that we're inconsistent in how we use the term system. As long as we think of the V890 alone as "the system", things like N1 and JES are <u>outside</u> the system, simply optional add-ons. Even Solaris is just along for the ride. Yes, I know we bundle bits and pieces, but we don't treat them as <u>defining characteristics</u> of the system - witness Andy's article.

At Sun, we say that we are a systems company, and we tout our ability to leverage a full portfolio of systems competencies - processors, computers, operating systems, middleware, Java, N1 management software, storage, Nauticus switches, tools, and so forth. (This is what I refer to as "controlling the horizontal and controlling the vertical".) That's true, and it's really great, as I noted in my last comment. However we need to make sure that when we talk of "the system" we don't simply overlook all of that and revert to meaning "the box". We need to sort out the language that we use, to avoid confusing ourselves and our customers.

Posted by Geoff Arnold on November 09, 2004 at 02:38 AM PST #

Thanks for the kind words, however, unfortunately I am not a SUN Employee - yeah, I know, bit of a bummer, wish I was though :-) it would be a heap of fun being in sales. My experience with the whole "enlightening the customer" came way back when I was 19, and started by own business selling x86 workstations and servers loaded with Solaris and FreeBSD. Many customers I have found don't really know much about the products, what they do know is what they want to get out of their new gizmo. You'll get something like, "well, I need to be able to send emails, syncronise calanders with everyone..." and they'll go on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the marketing need to see their job as educating the masses, preach the "good news" of JES :-)

Posted by kaiwai on November 09, 2004 at 05:42 PM PST #

kawai, I used "mostly" with you in mind (with Geoff and I providing a majority of the posts). Sometimes I think we should just dial an extension :) Thanks for your posts and support.

Marketing in general is hard, but is amplified when a company puts more money in R&D and less in marketing. The media has been hard on Sun IMHO. They tend to kick you when you're down. No company is exempt from this. That's why we blog at So Sun isn't filtered through a third party 100% of the time (both the "print" media and sun bloggers have a role).

Posted by John Clingan on November 09, 2004 at 10:24 PM PST #

I think that just showing a series of "layer cakes" reflecting the software stack for typical situations would help a great deal. e.g. an obvious one is (from bottom layer to topmost layer) Hardware| Solaris | ZFS,UFS | filesystem semantics

I often get the impression that the marketing material Sun provides is only useful if you know what the product does. For instance, JDS and JES both have "system" in their title - WHY? How does "system" help me understand what the product does? Also, for JES, though I have read about it, I still can't say for certain exactly how it fits in, yes it provides certain service

Posted by PatrickG on November 10, 2004 at 01:52 PM PST #

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