What Brought Green Back to Sun

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-04-16 Print this article Print


Rich, you were with Sun for 14 years, left to help startup Cassatt in 2004, then returned two years later in May 2006. Why did you leave, and why did you come back?

Green: Completely different reasons [for both moves]. There was a bit of controversy here. I was running Solaris and Java and was involved in the Microsoft [antitrust] litigation. It got to the point where I could see the end of the litigation. My last day at Sun was when we settled for the $2 billion. It was sort of, 'You ran Solaris, you ran Java, and you secured $2 billion for SMI [Sun Microsystems Inc.]. ... I'm going to Disneyland.' It was a time to do something else.

It was 2004, and it was a good opportunity to try a smaller startup, so I took that shot. It's still proceeding, and I have a lot of good friends there, and I have no regrets. But this guy Jonathan [Schwartz] kept calling me. You may have heard of him. There's something about working at Sun-you either love Sun or you don't. If you do, you're a Sun employee forever, whether you're working here or not.

When Jonathan called and essentially presented the opportunity of running the world's largest open-source company, and working for Jonathan-that's an opportunity that comes once in your life or less. And I had to do that-helping return Sun to where I think its place needs to be in the technology universe and fielding a vibrant open-source business.

How has your relationship with Jonathan evolved since you've returned?

Green: I think it's gotten a bit closer. We spend more time working together on more issues. Our views and strategic perspectives intersect more closely than ever. There's this process, where ultimately he's the CEO, but there are times where I lead and he follows-most times he leads and I follow. It's a remarkably smooth process.

Sun-with the release of Java, OpenSolaris, OpenOffice.org, Niagara and many of its other products to the open-source community during the last eight years-has established itself as the largest open-source IT company in the world. What else does the company need to do in the short term to close any loops still out there? Or are there any more loops to close?

Green: There are two axes of our software business. If you look at MySQL as an example, it's a model in which the vast majority of the software is made available as open source, but not all of it. Marten [Mickos, founder of MySQL and now a Sun executive] has this great expression: "There's a difference between organizations that have more time than money and organizations that have more money than time."

It's a brilliant comment. When you look at [MySQL's] stratification, all of their open-source software-which is a majority, by far, of their whole portfolio-is directed at the world community, which is dominated by folks with more time than money.

The platforms that MySQL and Sun use-which fit together so well-are there to attract developers all the way through deployment. There's no hold back in that platform that says, "If you want to go to deployment and you want to build a big company, you have to engage in a financial transaction with Sun." That would be a bit duplicitous and not fulfilling the open-source focus or business model.

But that doesn't mean that every bit of software should be open source. There are small bits of technology that are really focused on those organizations that are in full deployment but have more money than time. And so items such as optimization, configuration management, performance capabilities-those things that only are valuable when you're in large-scale deployment-are the kind of things that are available for a fee when you take a subscription for service, training and support, as well as those capabilities.

That's the overall model we're heading to. We're there in some cases but not in others. In most cases, most everything simply is open source. The incremental services are generally available as open source, as well. There are some areas in which we are moving through the open-source set of milestones, like in our infrastructure software with OpenESB and over time with our identity technology. With the big platforms-GlassFish, OpenSolaris, OpenJDK, MySQL-those are all open.

"More money than time." Is that sort of the realm of the older, more traditional companies?

Green: Oh, not at all. It's exactly the realm of medium-to-large-scale, but fast-growing, companies. If you look at one of the largest deals that MySQL has, it's with Facebook. You would not look at [Facebook] as a classic [company], by any means, but they are moving so quickly that any assistance that they can secure to maximize the use of their resources to turn around new features and services more quickly is well worth it.

That said, [Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg] got started in his dorm room with MySQL as the basis for the platform. It is a very important point that underscores why open source and free access to technology are so important.

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There is still a prevailing but incorrect wisdom that a company will start out with some basic open-source software and, as they become successful, they will step back, reassess their IT needs and reimplement on "larger-scale, more reliable enterprise deployments." So, there is the sense that propriety enterprise software will still be a successful platform because ultimately, "People will understand that's what they ultimately need."

We see existing proof after existing proof that this is simply false. The "good enough" now is absolutely great. And as long as you start out with an open-source platform that is suitable for development as well as deployment, there will never be a change. And if you try to advocate an open-source platform that is not suitable for scalable deployment, it will not be chosen.

The conceptual model of open-source platforms that are complete all the way from development to large-scale deployment is the core of the business model. There is no hold back that can be part of that business for those key large-scale deployments-or it will never realize the acceptance up-front.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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