eWEEK Labs Examines IBM, Sun Product Synergies, Overlap

Enterprise IT managers need to be thinking about the product impact of a possible IBM acquisition of Sun. eWEEK Labs takes a look at the areas of synergy--such as database and operating systems--as well as areas of overlap--such as development. In the end, IBM's services model may be the crux of all product decisions.

IBM is in talks to acquire Sun. This could be one of the biggest deals (in more ways than one) in our industry, or it could go the way of Microsoft/Yahoo. In any case, it's important for enterprise customers of both companies to think about what such a deal could mean for the products and technologies on which they rely.

Would IBM get rid of Sun products that compete with or overlap IBM products?

When I look at the product lines of the two companies, I don't see a lot of competition and overlap. For the most part, I see products that are synergistic and actually make a lot of sense offered together.

IBM's DB2 and Sun's MySQL databases, for example, hardly compete head-to-head, and together make a very nice potential database portfolio for IBM.

On the storage side, I see a similar group of products that have synergy and would meld together nicely into a full product portfolio. And, as others have pointed out, Sun's ability to deliver commodity hardware fills a hole in the IBM product portfolio.

However, there are some areas in which the competition between products is more direct-for example, between Sun Solaris and IBM AIX. That said, I think Solaris and AIX would remain independent systems should the acquisition happen. It basically works in IBM's favor to keep both operating systems around, as they tend to attract different customers. And, let's face it: Both of these OSes are pretty much legacy systems now--or are well on their way to that status.

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There are also some interesting areas of overlap between Sun's SPARC and IBM's Power chip platforms, and it's possible that we could see one of the two phased out over time should an IBM acquisition of Sun go through.

But where the two companies compete most directly is in development.

Sun's Netbeans and IBM's Eclipse platforms compete head-on in many areas, and developers tend to choose one over the other. But, again, this is an area in which I see a benefit to multiple offerings, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Netbeans evolve as a power-user option.

Of course, Sun's Java is a big piece of the puzzle here, and I would expect that all of the Java tools and servers would remain in play for a long time.

It's important to note that, given IBM's acquisition history, there is a good chance that Sun would remain in many ways intact should Big Blue buy it.

There are examples of IBM acquisitions that led to a company and its products being subsumed, but there are also many examples of IBM acquisitions where the acquired company continued to produce products, including some that competed with IBM products. (Lotus being the most obvious example.)

The other thing to keep in mind is that IBM is essentially a service company--it's all about getting customers and driving them to IBM services. So, getting customers of Sun products and driving them to IBM services makes perfect sense. Sun's wide customer base in hardware, Java development and cloud-based computing would add to potential IBM services and put IBM in a better position to compete against Hewlett-Packard.

Sun customers probably shouldn't worry about products being subsumed into IBM products or removed entirely, but they should worry about individual products essentially getting lost in the giant IBM universe.

Also, even though Sun is hardly a master of marketing and PR, it is still much better at it than IBM. IBM's biggest problem is its lack of ability to promote great products--best typified by its inability to take advantage of having the best operating system of the 1990s (OS/2). A future dearth of good marketing and PR is probably a bigger danger to Sun products than the chance of them getting cut entirely.

We'll see if this deal actually happens or if it is just another exercise in what-if scenarios. While less competition is never a good thing, a combined IBM/Sun could be a strong company to face the new age of cloud and open computing.

More eWEEK Labs analyses about the effects of a possible IBM/Sun merger:

Storage Is the Key Technology

Open-Source Community Would Win

Directory That Lives Competes More Strongly with Microsoft Active Directory

Databases Would Feed Off Each Other