What is Jonathan Schwartz Talking About?

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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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.


  1. Barry Wyatt

    Something tells me Schwartz is getting exactly what he wanted - a lot of people paying attention to the next blog he's about to write.

  2. I think what he was referring to was the idea that a data center does not need to be in the same downtown high rent real estate as other corporate assets. Put it in some hidden bunker somewhere outside of town, stock it with lots of redundant equipment that fails safe, and only send humans out there once a year to replaced downed hardware. Something like an abandoned Titan missile control center with cold war security away from fault lines and population centers, somewhere like in the middle of the state of Washington... http://www.titanone.com/aboutus.html

  3. Threaten conventional wisdom and you're certain to be attacked. Folks claiming they need a place called a data center with 100% uptime and redundant power clearly haven't considered the true value of the services they provide. Given that, it's not surprising they aren't interested in evaluating options for how to provide those services.

  4. The discussion on Schwartz's blog reminded me of Nicholas Carr's "software kills hardware" post. http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/07/software_kills.php In the beginning, everyone had hardware based answering machines, but now nobody hosts voicemail messages locally. Carr ends with a quote from Savvis' Bryan Doerr about the future of virtual data centers. Schwartz wasn't disputing that we need the functionalities of yesterday's data centers, but with utility computing, CDNs, P2P data transfer, distributed storage... data centers might evolve over time, just as answering machines have. I'm sure Schwartz wasn't the least bit worried about the negative comments. In fact, I thought most of his detractors came across as terribly anxious :)