Schwartz: Three Easy Steps to Understanding Sun

In a recent blog post, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz calls on his company to implement his three-step recipe for success, starting with recruiting developers to Sun's platform software. Schwartz says Sun also needs to provide compelling commercial offerings and then sell and service Sun's solutions and services.

Sun Microsystems is looking for a few good developers. In fact, according to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, the company is in recruitment mode to gain the attention of developers the world over.

In a recent video blog entitled "Understanding Sun in Three Easy Steps," Schwartz delivered what he considered a recipe for success at Sun, should the company do "only three things."

The first of these steps: "Recruit every developer on earth to use our software or services," Schwartz said. This is not a new tack for Schwartz. Indeed, Schwartz has long touted the importance of the developer in building and extending an ecosystem around Sun's platform technologies.

And Sun has gone to some lengths to reach out to developers-including open-sourcing the Java platform; enhancing the functionality of its NetBeans open-source developer tools environment; supporting and investing in dynamic language projects; targeting the fast-growing mobile development arena; and launching more and more tools and programs to make Sun software and services more accessible to developers.

But for all of its best-laid plans and programs, there is a perception that Sun is just not being taken as seriously as it should be in this regard. Sure, Java's been a huge success. But Sun is not solely responsible for that success, nor has it reaped all of the benefits. IBM, Oracle (BEA) and others also gained plenty.

However, more recently, a great deal of the innovation in the Java space has been happening outside of Sun-which is to be expected with an open platform such as Java. Sun took a hard shot when enterprise Java developers revolted over the so-called heaviness of J2EE (Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition). And that led the way for innovation from companies such as SpringSource and others. Meanwhile, the JCP (Java Community Process) has come around to focus on more lightweight deployments, among other things.

Schwartz said of Step One:

""This is a strategic activity, not a financial one, so don't look for revenue here. I'll devote an entire entry to understanding the motivations and mechanisms driving technology adoption, and to discussing the varied audiences we target. As the head of developer technologies from a very large customer said to me last week over dinner, 'I haven't visited Sun in five years, but all of a sudden you seem to matter to my developers.'""

Ian Skerrett, director of marketing for the Eclipse Foundation, said of Sun's success with developers: "I think Sun's had a lot of success. Java's been a huge success specifically from a developer perspective. I think Sun has done a really good job with GlassFish [Sun's open-source application server]. This is a strategy Jonathan's been very consistent on and I think it's working.

Meanwhile, Step Two for Sun is to "deliver the world's most compelling commercial offerings-focused primarily, but not exclusively, on deployers of the technologies whose adoption we're driving," Schwartz said.

He added:

""Our software and service products target those that find free to be a more expensive alternative than commercially supported, for whom the cost of downtime exceeds the price of a commercial license. That's a small fraction of the planet, but it's a lucrative one. On the systems side of the house, our products reach across rack and blade servers, storage and networking systems-basically, everything to power the cloud.""

And Step Three is "to execute the world's most effective selling/service connection between [steps] one and two," Schwartz said.

"Our first financial priority is to generate free cash flow; our first strategic priority is to grow our available market," he said. "When they're in sync, as I believe we are in our Open Storage business right now, you have to beat us in the free software community and then again in front of paying customers. That's a tough combination, especially if you're a proprietary storage vendor that pretends to like free software, so long as it doesn't compete with your products."

Moreover, Schwartz said Sun will deliver a lot more to the industry in the coming months and over the next year.

"You're going to see an accelerating series of announcements over the coming year, from amplifying our open-source storage offerings, to building out an equivalent portfolio of products in the networking space; from the addition of new and potentially surprising Solaris and MySQL OEMs, to our newest cloud offerings and startup programs," Schwartz said.

One commenter to Schwartz's blog, who identified himself as a former Sun employee, compared Sun to a Radio Shack store:

""I argue that Sun is a giant "parts" company. You have a product line that has a ton of parts that people can buy to put together some good things. Take one of your numerous servers (with names that could double as a SKU product number), install Solaris, attach storage, install MySQL, and I have a database. But why build the TV myself? But Sun comes to me and says, '[W]ait... you can buy professional services from us and we'll do it for you!' Well, that's like me going into Radio Shack and hiring the store employee to put together a TV for me with the parts that I just bought. Doesn't make sense, does it?""

Schwartz's post was forward-looking and optimistic. Indeed, he said it was the first of three or four posts he will do on the subject of understanding Sun, what makes it tick, and where it is headed as a company. He also talks about the tough times the economy presents for Sun and many of its partners and customers. That part cannot be lost in this discussion. Because, as Schwartz speaks about a progressive future for the company and its technologies, he also has to oversee the departure of many of the people who helped create Sun's legacy as the company enforces its plan to cut up to 6,000 jobs.

"Our intent is to create, promote, and commercialize the highest quality network innovations. Innovations that captivate developers, and deployers," Schwartz said. "To understand Sun, you have to understand both; you have to see what drives our financial performance, as well as read our financial statements. Absent both perspectives, you'll miss the bigger picture, the bigger threat, or the bigger opportunity."

Schwartz's personal, low-key video blog approach is a far cry from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's animated stage-front chants of "Developers, developers, developers!" or his more recent shout-out to "Web developers, Web developers, Web developers!" at Microsoft's Mix '08 conference. However, both men know the importance of a dedicated developer community to the proliferation of their platforms.