I’ve had comments, both written and verbal, about how hard it is to buy an X4500. As I noted in Computerworld that isn’t the surprise. I like the X4500 because it breaks the current model of available and high performance storage based on the 18-year old idea of a RAID controller.

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s CEO, published a post on Sept 18, 2006 in his blog where he talks about the increasing difficulty in explaining to analysts how Sun divvies up its revenues. He uses the X4500 as his example.

. . . we recently introduced a new product, code named “Thumper” . . . . It’s a 2-way, general purpose server, with 24 terabytes (yes, Tb [sic]) of storage, running Solaris and ZFS. It has very interesting performance (2 Gigabytes per second sustained i/o, for the geeks in the crowd), and pricing (well under $50,000 – less than $2 per Gig). Its service profile is what makes it most interesting, however: because it runs Solaris/ZFS, as the drives fail (and all disk drives eventually do), the system requires no maintenance. Instead, it either slows down, or shrinks (customers can choose) – but the integrity of customer data is never at risk. It’s a reliable system built from inherently unreliable parts, a fundamental design principle of the internet.

. . . Performance and efficiency are tremendous, in part because there’s no network latency – because there’s no network. (Just ask Joyent about their experiences.)

Now here’s the challenging part.

. . . it’s part server, part application platform, and part storage product. Customers pay only one price, but in the pursuit of transparency, how should we categorize the revenue? – as server, storage or software product? It obviously contains all three. For now, we’re calling it storage – which underrepresents our server and software business.

Mr Schwartz isn’t the only one who is confused
Actually it appears the X4500 is falling between the cracks in Sun’s organization because it is an innovative, cost-effective product. The revenue goes to the storage group, the product manager is from the server group, and the expertise about what makes it really cool is in the software group. In this podcast interview the product manager offers only two uses for the X4500: video surveillance and supercomputing.

A modest suggestion
Sun’s problem is bigger than confused X4500 marketing. The economic advantages of large-scale cluster-based internet data centers is beginning to sweep over a very conservative IT marketplace. These infrastructures have a very different calculus regarding management, software, network and storage tradeoffs than enterprise IT. It will take a team of smart marketing and engineering types to build relationships with the top customers to understand where Sun – or any other vendor – could add value and win business.

The move to RAD (reliable, adaptive, distributed) computing argues for a dedicated product group to be set up to investigate, document, propose, develop and market products and services. This is bigger than the X4500. This is the future of computing and the next big growth engine for software, server, network and storage companies.