What is Jonathan Schwartz Talking About?

A blog item about data centers by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz prompts debate. But it's probably not the debate he had in mind.

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz has generated both debate and confusion with his blog post titled The Death of Yesterday's Datacenter. He opens by talking about mobile apps and "putting computing closest to the source of value." But then he veers into the data center and closes with this thought: "Why bother with datacenters at all? Surely it's time we all started revisiting some basic assumptions." An excerpt:

Now I understand that IT infrastructure has to be put somewhere. But the whole concept of a datacenter is a bit of an anachronism. We certainly don't put power generators in precious city center real estate, or put them on pristine raised flooring with luxuriant environmentals, or surround them with glass and dramatic lighting to host tours for customers.

The piece leaves one wondering whether Schwartz had trouble articulating his thinking, or simply doesn't fully grasp the mission-critical nature of the data center. Is he advocating lights-out data centers, or speaking about on-site corporate data center rooms (as opposed to dedicated hosting centers)? My guess is that it's a veiled pitch for Sun's utility computing infrastructure, rather than an earnest argument against centralized mission-critical infrastructure.

Reading through the comments on the Sun blogs, it became clear I wasn't alone in my confusion. Many respondents felt Schwartz simply was clueless about the issue (although few of these folks signed their comments). A sampling:

"You don't really seem to have any grasp of what a datacentre actually does. It can provide the kind of reliability, availability and security that the kind of looosely connected systems you envision can't. ... I suggest you spend more time learning, and less time blogging."

Here's another response:

"Why bother with datacenters at all? Because I need somewhere with redundant power and 100% uptime to host my business critical systems!! I suppose I could host them on my PDA but what happens when I forget to charge it over the weekend... seriously, what a ridiculous thing to say."

For the record, I think CEO blogs are an excellent idea, and can be an important tool for communicating with your customers and a broader business audience. But for those who question the wisdom of CEO blogs, here's a comment that offers food for thought about the downside:

"I really wish you'd stop talking... Reading your blogs has made me go from thinking Sun was pointless to thinking Sun is both worthless and ignorant. You simply have no idea what you're talking about."

Ouch. To be fair, there were other comments agreeing with Schwartz's take on the subject. I don't believe Schwartz is clueless at all, but he may have tried to be too clever here. In writing "Death of Yesterday's Datacenter," Schwartz no doubt wanted to prompt debate. But this may not be the debate he had in mind.

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