The N1 programme aims to help IT departments manage their datacentres more efficiently. The idea is to make it possible for administrators to pool resources such as processing power, storage and bandwidth and allocate them to applications on an as-needed basis, as easily as if they were part of a single system.
Sun plans to demonstrate a new provisioning server in the coming weeks that should make it easier for enterprises to allocate computing resources in such distributed environments. When an application is performing poorly, an administrator will be able to transfer some of the work to a different server that has spare processing power.
The idea is to move from a "systems view" of the datacentre to a view that looks primarily at applications and services, and then make it easier to allocate system resources accordingly, said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of Sun's software group.
Sun already offers a handful of provisioning tools for its high-end servers. Last month it introduced Change Manager, designed to automate the installation and maintenance of software on large groups of servers.
The provisioning server will probably draw from existing technologies but should make it easier to manage servers that were not previously linked by common tools.
"This is similar to what we do with our high-end boxes," Schwartz said. "We need to transfer that to the Web, with boxes attached together by Ethernet. N1 is simply the notion of 'cable once and run forever' - you don't have to worry about cabling any more."
Sun declined to say when the provisioning server would be launched or provide further details. It will be the first of several server products that Sun will roll out in the coming years as it builds out its N1 architecture, said Anil Gadre, a vice-president with Sun's software group.
A version of the product is likely to be bundled free with Sun's operating system. Sun has decided to bundle a basic edition of all its middleware products with Solaris and to synchronise the release of all those products so that customers do not have to deal with frequent upgrades and patches.
The decision to bundle its middleware with Solaris and update the products together on a quarterly basis is "probably one of the most important steps in our strategy", Schwartz said, adding that part of the goal is to reduce complexity for customers.
"What we've heard from customers constantly is 'please make it easier for us', " he said.
Sun has already bundled a version of its Sun ONE application server and directory server with Solaris. Specific dates for bundling other products with Solaris were not provided.
Sun's middleware and clustering software will be among "the kind of core elements that will now become part of the operating system," Schwartz said.
The caveat is that the bundled products will be limited-use editions, similar to the standard version of Sun's application server offered with Solaris. "There is a price to scale them up," Schwartz said.
Schwartz rejected the idea that Sun's plan mimics Microsoft's moves to bundle formerly independent applications, such as Internet Explorer, into Windows.
"We complained about Microsoft being a monopoly and we complained about integration and tying, which is when you cannot use the OS without product 'xyz'. We do not live in that world," Schwartz said.
Users are free to use other vendors' directory or messaging products with Solaris even if those functions are already included in Sun's operating system, he added.