CTO Advisory Council
By tpm on May 16, 2005
It was fascinating to hear what things really keep our customers up at night, and their perceptions of our technology strengths and gaps. For our part, we discussed different aspects of our technology, including processors, platforms, operating systems, middleware and the Sun Grid.
Reactions varied - but apart from occasional surprises ("I didn't know Sun even did [this product or that service] .."), we heard the following (paraphrased) question "but why are you investing in [this component]?" This theme was particularly evident when we talked about the capabilities of each area, isolated from the others. Perhaps the way we presented our technologies reinforced the common misperception that all computer system components are now just commodities," i.e. "done," at least as far as techological innovation goes.
But by the end of the day, the customer CTOs seemed to have internalized our set of investment areas; and had a clearer idea of how each component investment related to the other, and thus improved the effectiveness of the whole offering. A great example was our CMT processor technologies, ambitious new platform designs, Solaris 10 threading and related observability capabilities like DTrace and plockstat, and so on up the stack to the Sun Grid. And then we reached one of those "Eureka!" moments, when I think the room did the synthesis step, and rediscovered the intrinsic value of a systems company - that takes an integrated approach to the coevolution of all the components of an information processing system.
Then after a brief moment basking in our little ray of sunshine, we were quickly taken to task for not communicating that message to the marketplace effectively! Sun is a company that lives and breathes innovation, and tends to focus on detailed technology messages. But for many of these CTOs and CIOs, their executive staffs need simpler, more direct, messages that make sense to less technical people.
Everyone is searching for simplicity, in particular, simple answers to complex problems, yet the levels of abstraction spanned by modern operating systems makes their implementation intrinsically complex, and it's easy to get lost in the detail. For my organization, and the other members of the OpenSolaris community, our biggest challenge may simply be communicating the full value of Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris to a broad audience - both as a set of component technologies, and as a systems technology.
One of the participants suggested that Sun needs to find a "great communicator" who can take our technology portfolio, and translate it into something more accessible to non-technical people, to really get our messages and core values across.
That's an interesting idea, and one that's certainly set us thinking.