• United States

Sun’s answer to the upgrade shuffle

May 12, 20034 mins
Data Center

Before we get to the meat of the matter (and I’m not making this up): According to the Associated Press, Microsoft’s MSN division in the U.K. is developing a portable toilet with a wireless keyboard and an extending, height-adjustable plasma screen in front of the seat.

The company plans to have a Hotmail station on the outside with a waterproof keyboard and a plasma screen for those waiting in line. As if that wasn’t enough, the company also intends to have toilet paper printed with Web site addresses.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that high-tech companies have toyed with the toilet. Back in 2001 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded a patent to IBM for “an apparatus, system and method for providing reservations for restroom use” – in other words, a queuing system for water closets. IBM recently decided to abandon the patent.

Sun, as far as I can determine, has never attempted to conquer the high-tech restroom market. The company has grander things on its mind, one being Project Orion, a strategy to simplify the acquisition, deployment and management of enterprise infrastructure software.

Like every other infrastructure player, Sun historically has distributed releases, updates, patches and new versions of its many flavors of software whenever they happened to bubble up.

Because Sun has scores of software products – everything from directory servers to identity servers to portal servers – the flow of updates is more like a continuous stream. And for large shops using Sun technology, the hassle of trying to deal with changes for a range of products that appear all over the calendar is enormous.

And sometimes the updates aren’t compatible – for example, a new release of Java could break your Java Server Pages environment until a JSP patch came out. This makes it crucial to test everything.

Enter Sun’s Orion, which was first previewed in February. The basic idea is to bring order to the integration, testing and release of infrastructure software. With Orion, Sun will provide software updates “on a quarterly release train that will become a single product called Solaris,” says Jonathan Schwartz, Sun executive vice president of software.

Let me note that bizarre descriptions such as “quarterly release train” are becoming too common in the IT industry. I blame the venture capitalists who are always mangling the English language.

Orion will encompass: Solaris, Solaris for x86 and Linux, along with a common Java runtime environment; a Web services infrastructure (application servers and portals); Microsoft-interoperable e-mail and communications; Liberty-enabled directory and identity; grid engine, streaming media, storage management, availability monitoring technologies and clustering.

By grouping all updates, the implication is that they will work together. And releasing them together on a schedule means it should be possible to reduce planning and testing costs. This should make managing enterprise implementations simpler and cheaper.

Sun has yet to detail Orion pricing, but there has been talk of a range of licensing plans, including yearly subscription, pricing per CPU or pricing per user seat. There’s also been some wild talk of metered billing. A nice idea, but I would suggest that is too technically complex to appear soon.

Sun says Orion has the potential to change the enterprise software industry by making infrastructure-software delivery predictable, easier to evaluate and more affordable.

Orion is, in principle, a huge strategic step for Sun, creating a more streamlined enterprise-management environment with simpler licensing – definitely a compelling story for customers and a good response to the competition. If the company could just come up with a plan for the high-tech toilet market . . . a Java powered latrine. Now there’s a story.

Relieve yourself to


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

More from this author