Drawing a Line in the Sand

A few years back, Sun acquired a small Czech company, named NetBeans. NetBeans had built an open source developer community and environment (whose accelerating adoption continues to this day – get it here). The product’s most distinguishing feature was (and still is) its update mechanism – at any point, a NetBeans developer can request the latest enhancements to the product, and see new functionality appear in their development environment. On demand, no consultants at your door.

It was an early experiment in remote updating that led us to roll out a similar auto-update feature for the basic Java platform. If you use the Java platform on Windows, the familiar cup and steam logo alerts you to new patches, security enhancements and features. It’s proven very useful, for everything from patches to version releases.

Both of these initiatives were early experiments in the creation of an on-line service infrastructure (the predecessor to the Sun Grid) to augment our technology products – to test the desirability of on-line services designed to automate the management, revision and security of products connected to the network. The results have somewhat exceeded our expectations – in that our update volumes now exceed 1 million requests a day (more than a million per day). We’re well on our way to growing one of the largest update networks on the internet, and a constant connection to our core platforms and customers.

Now if you read this blog, you know I’m a big fan of GM’s OnStar service. You can read all about it here. The basic idea is that a driver pays $19.95/month for a service that can, with a call to a service center, unlock a locked car via satellite. OnStar can dial 911 if your airbag deploys and you can’t be reached. It’s a great service, delivering peace of mind and real value (not just to its subscribers, but other drivers who might benefit from a 911 call). OnStar will, I’m convinced, give GM the ability to moderate the cost of acquiring a GM automobile – by augmenting their basic product with a new revenue stream, and a differentiator against their competition. It also radically reduces churn, from what I understand.

In reality, this is nothing new. If you own a cell phone or set top box, or have a Yahoo! ID, you’re already a subscriber to network services. We’ve always looked at a cell phone or a set top box, or even a PC as a client of network services. But we’ve never looked at a server that way, or an operating system, or a middleware platform. Until now.

Tomorrow morning in Washington, DC, Sun’s going to draw a line in the sand – on behalf of the entire IT industry. It’s time we all started taking responsibility for not only the quality of our hardware and software products, but the integrity of those products after they’re put into operation. We’ll be announcing a new service to the Sun Grid, an Update service for all hardware and software delivered by Sun. It’s the seeds of GM’s OnStar for the IT industry, and puts Sun one step closer to taking active responsibility for all the technologies we deliver – even when they’re running on our competitor’s platforms.

Can Sun’s Update service target Solaris running on a Dell machine, or the firmware on a Dell system? How about HP? IBM? Given that nearly 80% of the nearly 1.3 million license downloads are being loaded onto non-Sun hardware, the answer’s an unequivocal yes. Can we update Java on a Windows machine? Absolutely. Sun’s Update service will be multi-vendor from the outset – and truly open. How open? We’ll make the update network available to all our ISV’s and partners – as well as our customers, for their own applications. And unlike the closed update networks being operated by some of our open source competition, we’ll even open source the code. Open is open.

We’re hosting the announcement of this new Update Service (technically, the Sun Connection Update Service) in Washington, DC for a reason. The US government has long promoted the idea that the IT industry should take far greater care and responsibility when delivering technologies that touch public networks. They’ve taken other vendors to task for “dump and run” tactics, where a vendor will win bids based on a low ball price, without regard to the value or risk their wares bring to the networks to which they’re attached.

That’s one of the reasons the US government has moved away from “best price” procurement, and toward “best value.” If a cheap server breaks three times a week, it doesn’t represent value for taxpayers. If it can’t keep viruses at bay or be easily kept up to date, it represents a quantifiable risk.

And although the US Government has been the most vocal in public, we’ve heard the same theme from governments worldwide – many of whom are looking to the US to lead the largely American IT industry to ‘step up,’ to take responsibility. If Boeing has to vouch for the engines on airplanes (technically, GE vouches), surely the IT industry should start vouching for the systems managing air traffic control – minimally, whether they’re being kept up to date.

Like last September’s event targeting our Wall Street customers, or our event earlier this year for the global education and learning community, this event targets a specific audience: Governments, the world over. With a message that says, “You asked the IT industry to take greater responsibility. We heard you. And here’s how we’re responding.”

As we’ve seen in our business on Wall Street, focus begets growth. And there’s no doubt in my mind there’s growth to be had with governments. They’re proving to be some of the world’s most important service providers – from social services to national defense, they’ll be some of the largest SP’s the world will ever see. But as OnStar and Verizon and Comcast prove by the day, opportunities to grow with your customers may only accrue to those able to deliver sustainable value and constant engagement.

Not just a cheap car, phone, set top box. Or server.

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