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.
: Suns Schwartz Speaks Out”>
eWEEK: Are you suggesting Dell is more like Wal-Mart? Will Dell be hurt if Wal-Mart ever gets its act together and starts selling servers and desktops?
Schwartz: Dell is already being hurt by Wal-Mart, but only in undifferentiated consumer PCs. When it comes to file/print servers, Wal-Mart cant manage the basic support without an enterprise software partner. So stay tuned.
eWEEK: Has Solaris plateaued, and should Sun ramp up investment in Linux and get it running on SPARC as soon as possible?
Schwartz: No. AIX and HP/UX have plateaued, given IBMs and HPs inability to ship them on x86, so Solaris is consolidating Unix in the RISC arena, and Solaris on x86 is now the only data-center Unix on x86, as well. One million new copies [were deployed] in the past year. Its really down to Windows and Linux otherwise—and we ship two out of the three.
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: Should or will Sun ever disclose what it releases to the open-source community? It may be a way for Sun to show how open the company is and show how it not only benefits from the technology, but also puts as much back in.
Schwartz: Look at GNOME, StarOffice, Mozilla or all the accessibility/localization technology out there. Thats us. Weve contributed more than 8 million lines of code, way beyond anyone else. And its having an impact—check out the growth rate of Linux on desktops. Thats driving a lot of infrastructure on the server, and on the desktop, at Microsofts expense.
Were beginning to see the effects of our efforts: Check out Microsofts last public filings.
eWEEK: Why does Sun feel theres momentum behind Linux? And is it at the expense of Solaris?
Schwartz: Our customers told us two things in their zeal for Linux: that its single biggest feature was that it ran on 32-bit Intel; and where they wanted us to deliver Solaris. We were late, well admit. But were back in force.
eWEEK: Is there a value for open source in the enterprise?
Schwartz: Open source? Havent heard customers value that, at all. Most CIOs I talk to want less source code, not more, contrary to what IBM says. But again, theyre selling service hours, so they want the customer to have as much complexity as possible.
eWEEK: What are customers telling you?
Schwartz: Customers told us they were looking for ways to save money, and extending what theyd built on Solaris/SPARC, with an identical solution on Solaris/Intel, 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: It depends. Mostly highly replicated systems, like Web farms of render plants. Not many distributed systems.
eWEEK: What about distributed systems?
Schwartz: Distributed enterprise apps havent moved, and if/when they do, 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.
So Solaris on x86 is a win for customers, and us. And our ISVs.
eWEEK: How much of a commitment do you have in 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.
Unlike our competitors, who are abandoning their Unixes [HP with HP/UX and IBM with AIX], were focusing on what customers want: low-cost performance. Not whats necessitated by our inability to invest in our own OS [like HP], or a desire to bury the world with porting and integration services [like IBM].
: Suns Schwartz Speaks Out”>
eWEEK: Fill us in on N1. It seems most of the technology you have is acquired. Can you really hammer it into the Sun model culturally and technically in order for it to add value?
Schwartz: Not sure why what we acquired is relevant. IBM acquired Tivoli, after all. What we deliver is what customers care about, and its the synthesis of Solaris, NFS, a whole host of Internet standards—from J2EE to JSPs to Servlets to IMAP, LDAP and ICAP engines, on and on and on—all on a unified, provisionable stack leveraging an engine from TerraSpring, a lookup protocol from Jini, the CIM/WBEM standards—its a plethora of complexity we eliminate with a simple message. N1 virtualizes your data center: We take the complexity out, so you dont need fleets of consultants to manage your data center.
eWEEK: When will you announce your billion-dollars-in-Linux-revenue story?
Schwartz: We have an even better story—more than $10 billion on Internet standards. Customers dont care about which OS or which feature set, they care about standards, interoperability and price/performance. More than 80 million handsets are in the market today running Java. Motorola just announced they were abandoning all the other OSes to focus on what? Not Linux, but Java.
That IBM announced billions in service revenue on Linux is a testament to what weve been warning customers about: IBM is trying to get the world to rewrite everything to their proprietary extensions, in the hopes of increasing complexity, and maximizing utilization of their massive global services team. Thats maximizing IBMs revenue, not maximizing customer savings. Were focused on the latter; IBMs focused on the former.
eWEEK: What value do you offer for the Linux desktop, and why cant Red Hat 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], like the Java virtual machine, Star Office, Mozilla, etc. So I expect well see them continue supporting desktops, [and] we think thats a good thing. But well stay focused on the product development .
eWEEK: Is the Linux movement in the enterprise taking away more sales from Microsoft, as suggested in Microsofts filings, or is it taking away from Unix variations, including Solaris, HP-UX or AIX?
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: Whats your gut reaction when your competitors call Solaris a “proprietary” Unix?
Schwartz: Our Unix runs on 32-bit x86 systems, and supports standards that run on all platforms. Last [time] I checked, you could only run proprietary AIX systems on IBMs proprietary systems. Ours features IMAP, LDAP, ICAP, J2EE, JSP, on and on. AIX, again, doesnt.
As another example, we support MySQL—IBMs still trying to promote their proprietary database, which wont run on MySQL. Seems like a lock-in strategy to me.
eWEEK: It seems that the development platform—perhaps even extending into the GUI tools—is what drives a good portion of application development. What is Sun doing with 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 (java.sun.com) 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.
eWEEK: Has the Forte acquisition worked out as well as you might have hoped?
Schwartz: Some parts, yes; others, no—weve generated a lot of traction in the EAI and Web services space, largely as a result of their pioneering work, and the Forte team forms the foundation of our higher-end development environments.
eWEEK: Will we see additional acquisitions in the development space, given that Sun has an enormous cash reserve?