Bob Worrall was promoted to CIO of Sun Microsystems two months ago, filling a vacancy that arose when former CIO Bill Vass took up another position at the company. Worrall, 45, had been vice president of IT. In an interview with Eric Lai of Computerworld US, Worrall talks about Sun’s massive three-year ERP consolidation plans, as well as the advantages of letting employees telecommute.
Besides the day-to-day work of keeping Sun up and running, what projects are you overseeing?
Certainly, the number one continuing effort is the Integrated Business Information Solution [IBIS] project, where we are replacing 1,000 applications with a single instance of Oracle. It’s just huge, and it’s really gripping the company across the world.
I have several hundred people working on the project. The first big deliverable is next July, when we will go live with our services and price-quotation systems. That will be followed closely by establishing our general ledger.
Historically, we’ve refreshed our hardware every three to five years, but that’s been stretched out over the last several years because of the business environment.
With IBIS, we are doing a complete refresh and consolidating servers onto a combination of UltraSparc and x64 servers, with x64 on the front end. We save money and save energy using servers with low-power processors.
Do you plan to run the IBIS software on a grid?
It’s an ongoing debate we’re having. If the world were in perfect alignment, IBIS would be gridded. But to be frank, there are no serious references of Oracle running in a gridded environment that supports 40,000 users.
We’ll be using a more traditional [Sun Fire] E25K platform, which is a big Sun server running in the back room with small, thin x64 web servers on the front end. We do have Oracle running on a grid in a non-production environment. So we know technically how it works.
How widespread is the use of open source Solaris Express, the runtime version of Open Solaris, in Sun’s IT operation?
Since the earliest days of Solaris Express, we have followed [the developers’] delivery schedule and rolled it out as soon as possible. We provide feedback directly to engineering and catch bugs before the customers do.
We always deploy it into production somewhere, either in an engineering lab or a campus environment or even a data centre. It all depends on what the engineers want to validate. We also help make sure the user documentation and installation scripts work well. Our engineers are focused on the operating system, not how Fortune 1,000 companies use it. We can provide the operational perspective.
How big is telecommuting at Sun?
It is huge. We have about 15,000 to 20,000 employees who are flexible workers, meaning they don’t have fixed offices anymore. We have many employees using Sun Ray thin clients at home. The advantage is that there’s no local data, so you don’t worry about data being hijacked, and the units are all easily replaceable.
We also have an “office hoteling” notion, meaning you reserve an office as you need one. Our employee surveys show that [having flextime options] is always the top or second-biggest reason why people continue to work at Sun. We’ve even received kudos for how this could help us prepare for something like the avian flu pandemic or a natural disaster.
We can now upgrade our VPN gateway in a matter of days so that everyone can work from home if necessary.