New day dawning at Sun?

New day dawning at Sun?


Posing as the industry’s scrappy underdog is an image that Sun Microsystems tended to wear well throughout most of its history, even after it was no longer accurate.

A relative newcomer to the IT scene – it was founded in 1982 with four employees – Sun very quickly made a name for itself, led by the charismatic Scott McNealy. By 1991, it had laid claim to nearly two-thirds of the RISC market.

But if anyone doubted that this phase of Sun’s development has ended, those doubts should now be put to rest. McNealy’s company is faced with big decisions, and his company looks like a weary veteran.

Consider: co-founder Bill Joy recently resigned, it’s about to lay off 1,000 workers, and sales of its RISC-based Solaris servers, which unfortunately found their greatest acceptance among Web start-ups in the late nineties, are slumping. Meanwhile, the marketing message – although always amusing – has also become confusing. IBM has focused on its profitable services division and tightened up its many product lines. Dell has made slow but steady inroads into the enterprise, while HP and Compaq did what they had to do to take better aim at Big Blue. Sun, however, tried to ride out the sluggish Unix market, was cautious when it came to Linux, and, until recently, steadfastly held out against putting x86 development on the front burner in the face of customer pressure.

Which is why Sun’s decision last month to push the newly christened Java Enterprise System is likely as welcome to its customers as it is important to the company’s future. Also known as Project Orion, it bundles together Sun’s infrastructure software into one package, and sells it for US$100 per user. Sun also unveiled several less expensive Solaris servers and an open source desktop suite. The overall strategy is a good one. No one likes complex licensing from any vendor; Java is an excellent platform for enterprise apps; and Solaris servers are highly regarded.

That said, Orion is a plan that should have been acted upon a long time ago.

The IT industry road is littered with wreckage of those who tried to shift strategies, or attack Microsoft in one of its secure markets, never mind both.

If any company has the drive and sheer will to make something work, it’s Sun. From personal experience, I can say that it employs some of the smartest people in the industry. Its R&D activity is rarely spoken of, but is top-notch nonetheless.

Cynics like to say vendors are most adept at coming up with excellent solutions for which there are no problems. In this case, Sun is attempting to solve a clear problem. Whether it’s one you’ve already solved, or plan to do so with someone else, remains to be seen.