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Sun's war against clarity and business continues

To replace data centers with jelly beans and justice

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Comment The problem with the Particpation Age, as Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz describes the current state of internet affairs, is that everyone thinks it a good idea to participate.

We were beyond skeptical when Schwartz fired up a blog and started banging on about the Participation Age. CEOs have a horrible fondness for hearing their own voice, and we feared that a constantly updating virtual soapbox would be a step too far. As reporters, we're already forced to attend keynotes, media summits and earnings calls. Now you want us to read about your child's morning battle with oatmeal and how that relates to moving technology gear? No thanks.

As it turns out, Schwartz has provided Sun with a valuable service via the blog. Hundreds if not thousands of stories have celebrated him as the most prominent CEO blogger, garnering lots of attention for Sun. In addition, many of the executive's posts prove helpful. Schwartz has copped to customer disasters, explaining what went wrong and how Sun plans to fix the issue in the future. He also dives into Sun's quarterly financial results, providing far more detail than most CEOs on the real ins and outs of the business. Schwartz's writing style is digestible, which results in him having a regular audience to hit with what amount to be softish sells about Sun's technology and promotions.

Even if you find him over-the-top pro-Sun at times, and what else would you expect, it's hard to dispute the notion that Schwartz's blog is a big win for his company.

The same, however, cannot be said for one of Sun's newest bloggers – Brian Cinque.

A couple of weeks ago, Cinque, Sun's internal data center architect, revealed a plan to do away with the company's data centers by 2015. We use "plan" in its loosest sense since Cinque did not provide any measure of detail as to how Sun would accomplish this goal.

Where would Sun turn for compute power and storage? Why would it outsource compute power and storage when those are the very things it sells today and wants to rent tomorrow to customers under a utility model? How on Earth could Sun - a company centered on servers - announce it would abandon servers on a blog that no one reads?

We wondered these things right alongside numerous people who posted their own queries in the comments section on Cinque's blog. In fact, the data center architect was torn to shreds for being vague about such an important matter. Sun, you may have heard, sells data centers. So you might think it would want to issue a coherent plan for getting rid of its own gear.

Instead, Cinque followed up that first post with an even more vague post.

He wrote,

Some clarification has been requested of me via email and the blog comments. Is every data center ready to consolidate infrastructure and become more efficient? I would say yes. Is every corporation ready to accept SaaS today? I can not answer that question but I can make a personal observation. I challenge you to look at your data center today. Is there an eco-system within your data center eco-system? What the hell am I talking about? The observation is, not every application is directly tied or is a boundary system to your “important” product or application. I say “important” in quotes as its all relative .

Still with us? Okay.

Ask a user and that application is the most important, ask the CxO and you may get a different answer. Don't go running off and saying: what only non important application can be SaaS'ed out? The answer is NO. What I am saying, in general, is its human nature to resist change. In general, people eventually accept change and that acceptance is to start off slowly (crawl, walk, run approach) and progress from there. Yes there are some fantastic examples of corporations going direct to the run phase but each corporation can be different from one another. That corporate personality is a factor with regards to the acceptance rate of the cloud model.

And those were the only quasi-substantive bits from the post.

Obviously, Cinque and Sun think they're being proactive by telling the world that even a server seller has embraced the utility computing idea. But, you know, a single fact about Sun's planned transition to utility computing would help. Rather, we're told that Sun will cut its data centers in half by 2013 and then magically eliminate them by 2015.

Analogies are always dangerous, but we're inclined to picture Cinque's posts as the equivalent of Dell hiring Jessica Simpson to educate customers on the company's plans to do away with internal PCs.

Cinque joins the likes of BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker in what we'll call the decadence of the Participation Age.

With Baker, you find a paid journalist who can't help himself from avoiding the embarrassing trappings of having too many places to write. Baker recently penned a horrific puff piece on Google's cloud computing project so full of hyperbole that it bordered on fiction. He then made matters worse by blogging about his inner thoughts related to writing a cover story.

Baker ponders the deep philosophical question – should I disclose online parts of an upcoming print story?

"So, which is better: Writing what we learn as we learn it, or holding it secret and publishing it later? Given this readership, I’ll bet 9 of 10 of you would say to publish as we learn. But as I write this, I’m coming to appreciate the traditional approach. "

After babbling for a bit, he concludes,

"All that said, I'm planning to try starting my next stories online. I'll start in January (I'm on vacation now) I want to see if it can lead to a new type of magazine story. Or at least new for me. I'm tired of worrying about getting scooped."

Baker's solipsistic blog post makes it sound like he's a war correspondent dealing with mental anguish over how to handle a delicate story instead of a guy who must go through the arduous task of eating lunch with Google engineers.

Worried about getting scooped? Please. Then stop blogging about the innards of penning a spoonfed story and get on the phone.

The Participation Age provides too much opportunity and temptation, and companies – be they hardware vendors or magazines – ought to consider putting some checks in place where appropriate rather than encouraging an all out bloggasm.

Here's hoping Sun's public relations staff will put a stop to the Cinque madness before it's too late. The need for a skilled hand to deal with delicate subjects remains.

As for Baker? Well, we suspect that's a lost cause. ®

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