Sun Must Mean It This Time

Sun faces a dire predicament in financial results and credibility.

The recent announcement of a partnership between AMD and Sun promises IT buyers the benefits of greater choice among server technologies. The companies have pledged to introduce AMD Opteron-based Sun Fire servers running Solaris and Linux. That move could spur other vendors to counter with more powerful servers based on Opteron.

The magnitude of the deals impact on the industry will depend largely on one factor: the degree of Suns commitment.

In the past, Sun has launched products based on popular platforms other than its SPARC/Solaris; however, Sun has always reverted to focus on its proprietary, and most profitable, platform. Its lack of firm commitment to other platforms over time has diluted much benefit for IT buyers.

Two examples stand out: Suns on-again, off-again support of Intel x86 Solaris and its acquisition of Cobalt, a maker of modular x86 servers running Linux. Although Cobalts products could have attained broad enterprise appeal, Sun has been selling them under the LX50 label as ideal for edge applications, far from the core of enterprise IT activity.

Why might it be different this time? It might not. For Sun, this could simply be the latest in a long line of defensive strategies built around point products.

The thinking typically goes: "If a customer is determined to buy one of these from a competitor, the customer might as well be buying one from us."

If this is the case, dont look for much to come from the deal. Suns Opteron-based servers will languish in the bottom of its product portfolio, and rival vendors will not feel compelled to respond.

But it might indeed be different this time because Sun is facing a dire predicament in terms of financial results and credibility. In recent months, the company has been stung by the skepticism of Wall Street analysts, who have stirred doubt about CEO Scott McNealys leadership. In short, times are getting desperate for Sun. A broad product portfolio, to which Sun is committed, could help restore the companys credibility as an enterprise vendor and blunt criticism that whatever Sun sells, its goal will always be to tie customers to SPARC/ Solaris.

Meaning it this time could have broader benefits. Suns full support could nudge IBM to extend its relationship with AMD, and it might push Dell into offering Opteron-based products. That would give AMDs 32-bit-to-64-bit migration strategy the enterprise credibility after which AMD has thirsted for years.

Suns support must extend to selling Opteron-based servers in environments where SPARC/Solaris might also play—and letting customers choose their favored platform. That would be a radically new approach for Sun, but in these desperate times, a necessary one.

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