ABOVE THE NOISE: Sun to fight them on the beaches

ABOVE THE NOISE: Sun to fight them on the beaches

As the new executive vice president of Sun's software efforts, Jonathan Schwartz arguably has the toughest job in the industry.

No matter where you look, the company is under assault and it's up to Schwartz and his colleagues to turn the tide. When assessing Sun's situation, it becomes clear that Sun is fighting a three-front war over software, and the news from each front as of late has been grim.

Sun's core Solaris business is under assault by Linux. Everybody likes to talk about Windows servers in conjunction with Solaris, but the hard choice that Sun needs to make is to determine how much it wants to embrace the open-source model. For IBM, embracing Linux is relatively easy because operating systems outside the mainframe and the AS/400 are not core elements of its business.

But for Sun, Solaris is the business and making it easier for Linux to erode that business does not strike many within Sun as a good idea. That said, others argue that Linux in the datacentre is inevitable and Sun needs to own the software infrastructure on top of both Solaris and Linux, running on either Sparc or Intel platforms, if it ever hopes to thrive and triumph.

The second front is its Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) initiative. Originally, Sun ONE was little more than a marketing term. In recent weeks, Sun has moved to bring all of its Sun software products under that moniker and eventually each product bearing that name will leverage a common set of services, such as Sun's directory.

The problem, of course, is that Sun's offering comes late, especially when compared with what IBM, BEA Systems, and Microsoft already have on the table. Most of Sun's software products don't even register in double digits when it comes to market share. Sun is hoping that by bundling its software more aggressively with hardware it can make up a lot of ground quickly.

But IT organisations don't particularly like to buy their software and hardware from the same vendor. It takes away a lot of their negotiating flexibility. As the old saying goes, you date your hardware vendor and marry your software vendor. That means you may make a major software architecture decision every five to ten years, but you need to upgrade your hardware every two years.

The third front is Java and emerging Web services standards. By mishandling its stewardship of Java Community Process, Sun gave the entire industry, including former staunch allies such as IBM and BEA, an incentive to embrace Microsoft's leadership around XML.

None of these battles are going to be reversed overnight, and Schwartz faces an enormous task.

But Schwartz clearly has the ability to go on the offensive and the war is far from lost. It will, however, take tremendous leadership to turn the tide and find out whether this will truly be Sun's finest hour or just another case of too little, too late.

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