Sun hopes to shine again with financial customers

Sun Microsystems Inc. is “returning to its roots” by releasing a new set of products targeted at the financial services market.

During a press event held in New York on Tuesday, Sun’s president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz described Wall Street as “the swamp from which Sun spawns,” adding that if there is one industry on earth where IT matters, “it’s Wall Street.”

Although Sun started its business with financial services companies over 20 years ago, Schwartz said that once the IT market went belly up, Sun was left temporarily clueless as to what its customers needed.

Companies had a new shopping list of demands that weren’t what Sun was focused on during the tech boom, explained Schwartz. The list was comprised of four key elements: a multi-platform Solaris; industry standard hardware; choice and interoperability; and innovation to redefine price and performance.

“[Our customers] came a knocking and we had nothing. Our shelves, in all honesty, were empty,” Schwartz said.

Sun’s customers stated in the media that the company wasn’t listening to its needs, they were frustrated and “we weren’t listening, but we started,” he added. Sun is also hoping to stem a move toward Linux environments in the banking industry, and make Solaris a more attractive option.

The backbone to Sun’s comeback to the financial markets in both the U.S. and Canada is Solaris 10, the enterprise Unix operating system that runs on the AMD Opteron processor.

Sun began working with chipmaker AMD over a year ago on issues such as compiler technologies, libraries and tools for projects including the development of the Solaris 10 operating system, explained Pat Patla, director of server workstation marketing at AMD in Austin, Tex. With Solaris 10 customers now have a completely robust operating system running on Opteron that will deliver both 32- and 64-bit applications natively and simultaneously on one environment, he added.

For customers that have made commitments to the x86 space in the past, this means they can now migrate to both 32- bit and 64-bit environments and are also able to make the decision between Sun Solaris as well as Linux applications on the Solaris 10, Patla said.

Sun has an extremely wide range of choices now for their customers, not only from a hardware perspective but also in the volume space with AMD Opteron, he noted.

Sun is also hoping to “woo Wall-Street” with its new migration programs for both its hardware and software bundles, Schwartz explained. Included in this promotion is a Xeon trade-in program which will entitle organizations to cash credits if they move from an existing Xeon server to a new Sun Fire opteron-based system.

Sun is also offering 50 per cent off the cost of Solaris for what Schwartz calls, “frustrated Red Hat customers.” Linux developers are frustrated with Linux support, he explained. Sun’s new Unix and Linux support service will be available 24/7 and Schwartz insisted that Sun is not “anti-anything” they are simply “pro customer.”

Although Sun’s focus is on winning back it’s Wall Street customers, Catherine Whitelaw, Sun’s director of financial markets in Canada, said Bay Street is also a priority for the company.

As Sun does proof of concepts with American companies, Whitelaw said it is then very easy for her to be able to take that information and translate it to Canadian banks and financial institutions. However, Whitelaw said Sun doesn’t expect that moving concepts north of the border will simply require a “cookie cutter approach.”

“Everyone has smaller budgets, everyone is focused on cost containment or cost reduction, everyone is focused on utilization, everyone is focused on being able to get more from the technology and making sure the technology is part and parcel of their business advantage.”

One main difference is that U.S. companies are traditionally much larger, so their technology requirements are of a different scale, Whitelaw noted. However, many of the issues — including budget, utilization and compliance — can still be the same.

Sun Canada is also keeping an eye on cultural changes with its customers. One area that Whitelaw has her team very focused on is partnering with its customers.

“We can be a lot more effective for our customers if we know what their infrastructure looks like, if we know what their issues are, if we know what they are ultimately trying to accomplish,” Whitelaw said. “That isn’t simply supplying them with a box.”

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