Answer to the Roof Riddle

In answering the prior question…

As you know, computers consume a ton of energy – if you don’t work in a datacenter, you may not know what I’m talking about. But you know how your laptop warms your lap? Or your PC heats up your den? Multiply that a few thousand times over, and you have a problem faced by most datacenters – power draw and heat dissipation. Map that challenge to every business on earth, and you have a global power crisis as the network is built out. (And talk to some web 2.0 startups, you’ll hear many say their second biggest operating expense, after salaries, is electricity – that’s why the big search companies are building data centers where power’s cheap).

Back to my story… the CIO in my prior posting informed her CEO that in order to support more analytics and trading activity – the computational heart of their business – they needed to build a bigger computing grid. For which they needed more space (which isn’t cheap in midtown Manhattan), and more power – to which he responded, “the CEO of the power company is a friend of mine – let me just give him a call.”

The CIO replied, “no no, those are only a couple of limiters. The more power we bring in, the more cooling we need. The more cooling we need, the more power again. But the thing that’s really holding us back is even with more budget for space, power and cooling, we need backup power in the event of an outage, and the generator necessary to provide backup power of this magnitude is the size of a locomotive, and the only place we could possibly put that is on the roof, and look, we DON’T HAVE ANY MORE ROOM!”

And now you know why we’ve been so focused on the physical size and energy efficiency of our new computing and storage platforms, in addition to their raw performance. (And if you’d like a sample to try for yourself, just click here, or read what others have experienced.) The lowest end systems start at $795 (no, that’s not a typo).


And Mr. Scoble – thanks for taking the time to stop in, much appreciated. I enjoyed the discussion, too. Thank you for pioneering the medium.


Filed under General

18 responses to “Answer to the Roof Riddle

  1. Web

    It is unfortunate that the massive amounts of continuos heat and energy being generated can not be rechanneled back into that building to provide heat during the winter and autumn months.
    However, it is conceivable that in a few decades there may technology that could actually recycle and re-energize that disappated heat into a self sustaining generator that would again provide power in a continuous cycle.
    Some massive changes in the way we use and release energy are vital as the hi tech gets more and more demanding of resources

  2. David lewis

    HI Jonathan, What do you think? You are a One man army planning to sell all the Energy Efficient servers yourselves? Why not give your sales team a stiff target and tell them if dont make it they will be one of the 5000 you recenty announced . When HP and MS sales people are busy selling your sales team is no where to be seen .

  3. I think it is a typo – the x2100 starts at $745, not $795.

  4. The power comsumption problem is a real one. There are some people stating that if performance per watt of today’s computers do not improve soon electricity will represent the main cost driver on data centers.

    Sun, despite being the first, is not the only company being concerned with the issue. AMD server processors are already reaching the 90 watts range, closing the gap to Sun’s T2000.

    My question to Jonathan is, do you think the first mover advantage that Sun has will be enough to protect its competitive position in processors and servers that consume less power and produce less heat?

  5. Anonymous

    Where is this $795 coolthreads server?

  6. Adam S

    Where is the $795 server that you mentioned? I cannot find anything less than 2995 on your web site?

  7. Adriano

    I’m trying to find a “Sharepoint” like solution, and as much as I want to use Sun One Portal, it just doesn’t cut the bill. Why not provide a Sharepoint like solution with MS Office / OpenOffice integration so that I can buy your Energy Efficient servers. Your Sun Ray thin desktops look great, very interested in those. I just need a solid portal that I can deploy on your Sun Hardware.

  8. Paul Fiser

    So everyone is looking to cut costs? I am a shareholder of Sun and I vote to cut costs by stopping the Java train. The cliches are old about how Java creates revenue for Sun. Lots of hyperbole and no facts. The simple fact is that Sun blew it when it had the chance to monetize Java. The fact that Sun won’t break out the numbers for Java revenue is because the number is so small that it is embarassing. Although I have seen analysts estimates that put the number at a paltry 10 million per year for licensing fees. Why is Sun supporting the whole Java ecosystem when it is not making money off of Java? Open source the darn thing and get the monkey off our backs!

  9. Concerned Customer

    I’ve been a big fan of Sun’s software and hardware throughout my entire career. I’m what you’d probably call a “Sun Evangelist”. I play with your development tools in my free time and push for their adoption and use within the walls of the Fortune 100 company where I am employed.

    So, please, for the love of all that is holy…do me one favor:

    Fix your sales team!

    When surveying the landscape of our vendor relationships…the one we have with Sun is by far the most broken. We rarely get timely callbacks from our salespeople and they seemingly refuse to discuss the Niagara or Galaxy servers when they do decide to stop in. They seem to fear selling the smaller boxes will eat into their ability to meet their astronomical sales goals.

    If you’re a salesman who has two kids and a mortgage payment, are you going to try and sell as many high priced, high margin boxes to your customers as you can or are you going to triple the number of required sales calls in order to sell the smaller volume boxes?

    For example, I’ve currently got a web server that is running on an E220r. I’d like to put it on a T1000. Your salesman wants to sell me a V490 and tells me I’m crazy for looking at the T1000, I need more “robust computing”. Thanks, but I know what I need. Listen more, talk less bub.

    I don’t blame him because it makes his life easier but, is that goal of Sun? To make the lives of their salesman easier?

    Isn’t there a way to simplify the sales goals so they are focused on number of units sold in particular product lines rather than a total dollar value?

    Joe Salesman currently has four accounts and a $10MM goal.

    Why not make it so Joe Salesman has four accounts and a goal of 100 T1000/T2000 units, 500 X4100/4200 units, and 100 USIV+ units?

  10. Prince

    Hello Jonathan, i hope SUN aggressively go after the data center folks citing the power save advantage ( which currently ultrasparc T1 & AMD chips have ) over the competition. The niagara servers are getting good reviews. See the CRN report :
    They call the niagara server ” Sun’s Energy Super Saver”

  11. Regarding your friendship with Mr Scoble, why not work together to run Windows on Niagara, Niagara II and Rock? Then you’d be enjoying a truly huge market opportunity!

  12. Pikemann Urge

    I’ve admired Sun for years and there’s one thing I found lacking: good, solid advertising. One of my favourite books is Ogilvy on Advertising. If you have some time to read it you should – it’s probably all any decent company needs to know about how to advertise.
    May I suggest that Sun needs ads with detailed, factual copy in magazines and newspapers. Like what Ogilvy & Mather did for Shell – customers cut those pages out and stuck them on their office walls. And they were just ads.
    These Niagra servers of yours – anyone who knows about them won’t even give Dell or other similar companies a second look. Good advertising as David Ogilvy prescribes is the way to get people noticing.

  13. Kevin

    Why build a bigger computing grid in Manhattan? Follow the lead of the big search companies, and build a data center where power is cheap.
    The space and power savings argument for coolthreads is still a valid and compelling one, and would certainly apply to the new out-of-town datacenter, but it is a separate argument from the “no space on the roof” gimmick that serves as the punchline of this pitch.

  14. Prince

    Some companies want their private grid closer to the
    chairman’s office 🙂 . But why should companies build their own data centers ? Let them tap into
    SUN’s compute grid. Let SUN worry about cooling , electricity etc. How is that ?

  15. Deepak Sekar

    Hi Jonathan,
    I have been hearing a lot of good things about Niagara from architects I know at IBM. I think some of the things you guys have done there, like running the chip at 65C, getting 8 cores at 1.2GHz to make the system energy efficient, getting the fabrication outsourced to TI, etc are very good moves. The only concern I have is that people have been trying to get good parallel compilers for almost 20 years now, and haven’t succeeded.
    So how do you see the software keep up with these multicore energy efficient chips? Wouldn’t this be a big issue for applications where the number of parallel threads is not that much?
    Also, what kind of hardware system do you see coming out 5-10 years from now? Could we expect to see a 200 core chip in 2015?
    Thank you in advance for your response. Your answer to this question could be very useful to many people thinking about getting Niagara systems.
    – Deepak

  16. I came here via Tim ( and I concur — comments appear to be quite intelligent and cogent. Keep up the interesting and engaging blog 🙂

  17. Peter Denyer

    Control Data, back in the day, had a novel way to recycle the waste heat from their data center in Minneapolis. They had a farmer running a greenhouse heated by all that waste heat. Fresh vegetables for sale all year around, despite the chilly northern climate. Probably not feasible in Manhatten, though.

  18. Sun Investor

    I am a Sun investor. Despite my stock losses, I am still a Sun supporter. Here is some advice from outside:

    1. The Niagara chips do sound good. However, as one earlier poster pointed out, without Redmond porting Windows to this hardware, you are missing out on a very large opportunity. Can you please work on convincing Redmond to do something about it?

    2. Is Solaris ever going to be made user friendly? I recently downloaded Solaris 10 for x86. It installed after a lot of struggle – and the user interface was quite poor. I wonder when we will see results from the Looking Glass project. I have now reformatted and installed Suse with KDE instead. The Java Desktop system is terrible compared to KDE. (I know there is KDE for Solaris, but I wish you bundled it all with an intuitive installer). Learn a few things from Redmond.

    3. I use Java everyday, and I think it is a great language. But why can’t Sun make money? IBM and BEA (and even Oracle) have milked Java. Don’t open source it – but find a way to make money off it.

    4. Create a Sun search engine. I am sure Sun’s engineers can give Google a good run for its money. Sun could leverage the site for this purpose. This would be a great showcase for your hardware and software products as well. And finally, it could really add a few dollars to Sun’s bottomline.

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