Sun Tackles Dell, Linux

Interview: Executive vice president Schwartz weighs in on threats from competitors, coping with Linux and revitalizing software efforts.

Since taking on the role of executive vice president last summer, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Jonathan Schwartz has been revving up the Sun software engine, which had lost momentum in several critical areas, including development tools, application servers and dealing with Linux. eWEEK Labs Director John Taschek recently spoke with Schwartz about a range of issues facing the Santa Clara, Calif., company.

eWEEK: Can Suns value proposition survive the likes of Dell Computer Corp. and its build-to-order manufacturing?

Schwartz: Were in a better position than Dell—they dont own any [intellectual property]. So when they ship a server, they have to pay Microsoft Corp. or some other software company. Thats $1,000 for a data center operating system. Were $1,000 ahead by owning our own intellectual property.

At higher value levels, customers want global support, which would blow Dells cost model.

eWEEK: What is stopping Dell from overtaking the server space?

Schwartz: Dell fails with products that require customization after purchase—Dell cant handle more than file or print servers or basic render farms [clusters of computers that render graphics or perform floating-point operations].

eWEEK: Has Solaris plateaued, and should Sun ramp up investment in Linux and get it running on SPARC as soon as possible?

Schwartz: No. ... Solaris on x86 is now the only data center Unix on x86. One million new copies [were deployed] in the past year. On middleware, Sun leads on messaging, directory, calendaring, identity and clustering for Unix.

Where dont we lead? App servers, but weve got great momentum with our Sun ONE Application Server 7.0 product, as customers figure out its one-tenth the price of its competitors. And, of course, we lack a database. We believe we win by getting the complexity out in delivering this as a systems stack. And by driving the price way, way down.

eWEEK: Is there a value for open source in the enterprise?

Schwartz: Most CIOs I talk to want less source code, not more.

eWEEK: What are customers telling you?

Schwartz: Customers told us they were looking for ways to save money and [that] extending what theyd built on Solaris/SPARC, with an identical solution on Solaris/Intel Corp., was going to be a big win, rather than trying to figure out an expensive port to Linux.

eWEEK: What applications have customers ported to Linux from Unix?

Schwartz: Mostly highly replicated systems ... not many distributed systems. ... If/when [distributed enterprise applications move], well have a far more complete, integrated and lower-cost solution—with Solaris/x86 and Solaris/SPARC—than anyone else trying to hand-assemble an OS plus middleware.

eWEEK: How much of a commitment do you have to Linux?

Schwartz: We have a massive commitment focused on the desktop. There are 2 million Linux desktops in the world—just none on Wall Street. The movements unstoppable among consumers, home users, and price-sensitive or security-sensitive customers.

On the server? Our commitments more in the form of standards and interoperability—well run Linux apps unmodified, and to the extent the Linux players support those standards, we think its good for the Internet. But our feeling is that customers are more focused on Java than on Linux, so thats where were focused.

eWEEK: Fill us in on N1. It seems most of the technology you have is acquired. Can you hammer it all into the Sun model culturally and technically?

Schwartz: What we deliver is ... the synthesis of Solaris, NFS, a whole host of Internet standards ... on a unified, provisionable stack leveraging an engine from Terraspring, a lookup protocol from Jini, the CIM/WBEM standards. We take the complexity out, so you dont need fleets of consultants to manage your data center.

eWEEK: What value do you offer for the Linux desktop? Cant Red Hat Inc. offer the same thing with a partner?

Schwartz: Red Hat is primarily a services firm, not an engineering company. They package what the Linux marketplace develops and monetize it with a support relationship. We focus more on [intellectual property]. ... I expect [they will] continue supporting desktops, [and] well stay focused on the product development.

eWEEK: Is the Linux movement in the enterprise taking away more sales from Microsoft ... or is it taking away from Unix variations?

Schwartz: Two million desktops running Linux sounds to me like a problem for Microsoft. On the server? Were shipping Linux, which means were generating revenue from it. [Wed] love to see Microsoft ship Linux.

eWEEK: What is Sun doing with development tools?

Schwartz: We drive a very large open-source effort, NetBeans, to deliver the worlds best GUI tools to Java developers around the planet. And we host the largest developer forum for the Java community. We have very large investments in all sorts of productivity environments for developers, from the simplest applications to the largest-scale high-availability enterprise systems.