Suns Schwartz: Were Back in Force

Interview: Sun's Schwartz weighs in on threats from competitors, coping with Linux and revitalizing software efforts.

Most of the world associates Sun Microsystems Inc. with high-performance computing, Java, the phrase "The network is the computer," and the "dot" in the dot-com industry. The latter, of course, is an unfortunate association for any company, and it had a disastrous effect on Sun.

Sun is now positioning itself as the company that provides "Network Computing 03," but its also the one thats squarely in the sights of some very strong competitors, including IBM and Dell Computer Corp.

One area that is particularly critical for Sun is software. With Java, StarOffice, Solaris and Linux all on the verge of major breakthroughs (or busts), Sun Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz has a lot on his mind.

Since shifting over from his role as Suns Chief Strategy Officer last July, Schwartz has been revving up the Sun software engine, which had lost ground in several critical areas, including development tools, application servers and dealing with Linux.

In a dinner conversation that carried over to a subsequent e-mail exchange, eWEEK Labs Director John Taschek asked Schwartz about the threat of Linux and how Sun will cope with Dell as a competitor.

eWEEK: Can your value proposition survive with the likes of Dell and its build-to-order manufacturing engine nipping at your heals?

Schwartz: Thats like asking, "is Intel threatened by Dell?" You need to understand were in a better position than Dell—they dont own any [intellectual property]. So when they ship a server, theyll either have to pay Microsoft or some other software company. Thats $1,000 for a data center OS. Were $1,000 ahead by owning our own intellectual property.

Secondly, the entirety of the low-end systems business (despite what HP and IBM say) isnt $3 billion—God knows where they fabricated that revenue last quarter—its a few hundred million [dollars]. We could sell our low-end systems hardware at cost, and deliver value on the software through the sale of Solaris on x86 and higher-value SunONE—and still be ahead. In addition, at higher value levels, customers want global support, which would blow Dells cost model.

Finally, if the world is decomposed into a blizzard of little boxes (which we doubt), only Sun with N1 will be in a position to innovate—and benefit—at a systems level. We control the components, the performance, the interaction and the provisioning. Today.

If you think about it, IBMs disincented from solving the problem—complexity is what they monetize with Global Services. Without it, their economic model breaks down.

Only Microsofts in a similar position, with as strong an OS position. Except theirs is a desktop franchise, with limited—in fact, no—data-center experience. Who else is left?

So we like our position. Our customers like our position, although were late to embrace 32-bit systems. Were there now. And finally, our ISVs like our position. More by the day.

eWEEK: What is stopping Dell from overtaking the server space, especially considering that high-performance computing clusters based on Linux are starting to gain traction in corporations, where once they were restricted to academics and applied science projects?

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]. They sell parts, not systems.