Sun talks new computing, pricing model

Sun Microsystems Inc. took the wraps off its Project Orion initiative last month, rebranding its family of software infrastructure solutions under the Java Enterprise System.

At its Sun Network conference in San Francisco, Sun chief executive Scott McNeely riffed on the theme of recalling “cost and complexity.”

Rather than sell the network components on their own, “we’re going to sell you the whole car,” McNealy said in front of the 8,500 delegates in attendance, adding that Sun’s renewed holistic focus is on network computing architecture. This approach means that Sun will deal with the integration issues that organizations would either need to do in-house, or incur consultant fees.

The Java Enterprise System – single sign-on server middleware software that features network identity, e-mail, Sun ONE application server, directory server and portal server, Sun’s clustering software and Java programs support – consolidates Sun’s network services environment, McNeely said.

Slated for a November release, both the server and desktop versions of Java Enterprise System are tagged at US$100 per employee, per year. This includes unlimited right-to-use for intranet and Internet deployments. Sun software executive vice-president Jonathan Schwartz noted that larger organizations with 120,000 workers or more will pay a flat fee of US$12 million per year.

Largely perceived as a hardware and server company, Sun is banking on the new models to increase market share within the software market. David Olson, who was in attendance at Sun Network this year, said the Sun announcements largely fulfill the software promises made last year. Olson, who works for Calgary-based integrator GNI Networks, noted that enterprises integrating the new software can only save on costs in services fees, but said the new licensing model would be easier to present to his clients. New Sun desktop technologies -Schwartz also announced a prototype for a new 3-D Linux desktop user interface, Project Looking Glass, which manipulates desktop windows as three-dimensional panes that can become transparent or translucent – demonstrate the new focus on software, Olson noted.

Indeed, Sun has come quite a ways from the days where customers would be confused about its shipping dates and software licences. McNealy noted the offering simplifies the pricing model and synchronizes quarterly updates for Sun solutions that have been integrated and pre-tested for compatibility.

It looks like Sun is beginning to “right the ship,” said Stephen O’Grady, a software analyst for IT consulting firm RedMonk in Bath, Me.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm’s software strategy is designed to go head-to-head with Microsoft Corp.’s software offerings and present a possible alternative to users who might be disenchanted with working in a Windows environment.

In Canada, Sun is particularly targeting the Java Enterprise System at enterprises within the telecommunications, oil and gas and financial industries, according to Stephane Boisvert, president of Markham, Ont.-based Sun Microsystems of Canada.

This particular software pricing model – which includes training, quarterly updates, support and installation services – should benefit enterprises, Schwartz offered, as they won’t incur vendor audits and the model can be deployed to an organization’s entire customer, supplier and partner base. According to Sun claims, its Java Desktop System costs 60 to 80 per cent less than Microsoft Office.

Analysts note that the regular update schedule should also make Sun’s software easier to use. Substantial execution challenges remain, but the early returns are promising, O’Grady said. Sun’s offerings – particularly from a pricing perspective – have changed the landscape for Java vendors. But the question remains whether the new initiatives will be enough to woo away customers who, much like Schwartz noted in a media briefing, are willing to pay “three times as much” what Microsoft Office costs to stick with that brand.

It’s doubtful that Orion will have much affect on Microsoft’s installed base, although undoubtedly they will come across each other in select accounts, O’Grady said. Overall, the Java Enterprise Desktop may prove to be a threat to certain low user requirement segments of the Microsoft Office market, such as data centre seats, O’Grady added. “The Java Enterprise System, for its part, is poised to strike hard at vendors like BEA and to a lesser extent, IBM, as it undercuts them in pricing and end-to-end integration.”

In addition, Sun unveiled its Project Mad Hatter open source software. Now dubbed the Java Desktop System, the office solution – which features the look-and-feel of Microsoft Office along with MS file compatibility – uses a JavaCard smartcard for security, and includes StarOffice 7; the latest release of J2SE; a Mozilla browser; and desktop applications such as Macromedia Flash, e-mail calendaring and instant messaging.

Pricing at starts at US$100 per desktop. The Linux client-operating environment runs on x86 and Sun Sparc systems using the Solaris or Linux OS. A network-enabled StarOffice enterprise version will be launched in 2004, Sun said.