Spin Unspun: Did Sun's VP Misspeak?

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

Baseline looks at the possibility that a Sun Microsystems executive overstated the savings his company's systems offer.

"We can support 2,000 users with one system administrator at Sun. It requires in the neighborhood of one administrator for every 50 users in the Windows world."
—Sun Microsystems Executive software VP Jonathan Schwartz, as quoted in The New York Times, Sept. 18, 2002

Even allowing that a "user-to-system-administrator ratio'' can be difficult to pin down, this claim doesn't even come with the home office's stamp of approval.

Marie Domingo, of Sun's corporate communications department, says Schwartz was referring to implementations of Sun Ray desktop appliances and related servers. Even so, Domingo couldn't find a current example that came anywhere near Schwartz's 2,000-to-1 ratio.

The best, at Sun's Broomfield campus, is a ratio of 1,100 Sun Ray appliances to one system administrator. Domingo says the ratio is "heading higher as we plug in more Sun Rays, make improvements in software infrastructure, and move up the learning curve." The 2,000-to-1 ratio, she adds, "is well within possibility ranges." But Schwartz, who declined to comment, wasn't talking about the future. He was speaking in the present tense.

Also, as Mark M. Levin, vice president of data-center strategies at Meta Group, points out, "there is no standard definition of a system administrator." System administrators, Levin says, can maintain hardware and software operated by others, or run entire systems themselves. Sometimes they do both.

In this case, hyperbole may make for good ink, but it doesn't do much for good technology planning.

This article was originally published on 2002-11-01
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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