Weathering the storm

Sept. 11 will be long remembered for its horror, but will likely also go down in history as being the figurative last straw for business. In a keynote address in Toronto last November, Sun Microsystems Inc.’s executive vice-president of global sales operations was frank about the impact of that fateful day, but hopeful about the future of high tech.

According to Menlo Park, Calif.-based Masood Jabbar, the economic nosedive following Sept. 11 was a hard blow to an industry still licking its wounds after the Y2K “waste of time,” the introduction of the Euro and the dot-com phenomenon.

“Before Sept. 11, things had started to look better,” Jabbar said, but the events of that day “shocked our system.”

The result of that shock is that companies have to do more with less. This new reality, Jabbar admitted, also applies to Sun Microsystems, which had 356 employees working in the World Trade Center. In October the company had its first round of economic-based layoffs.

“In good times people get lazy. This was a wakeup call to fix things,” he said. “Sixty per cent of corporations are going through restructuring, change and reduction right now. They’re rethinking the way that they do business, but with streamlining, the work doesn’t go away, so they’re outsourcing what’s not critical to their business to somebody else and focusing on what’s important.”

According to Jabbar, what is important is the ability to leverage infrastructure, information assets and the total cost of ownership.

For Sun Microsystems, part of this focus is on its vision of “anyone, any time, anywhere, any device.” This includes an Internet that has no downtime, either planned or unplanned.

“We are entering the third wave of the Internet,” Jabbar said. “The first wave was computers talking to computers. The second wave was an Internet of things that embedded computers. The third will be an Internet of things, where everything will have a digital heartbeat. The next big thing will be real time computing, the wireless Web and grid computing.”

For the meantime, Jabbar said, Sun is maintaining its commitment to security.

“We’ve been working on security since Sun opened, and it has been built in from the bottom up,” he said. “Security has to be taken seriously because these days information is not mission critical, it’s life critical.”

Jabbar was cautiously optimistic about the economy regaining momentum.

“Business will pick up, but I don’t believe we’re going to return to the heyday that we got used to,” Jabbar said. “Two points on a curve does not make a trend.”