Sun answers Microsoft with Net services strategy

Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Scott McNealy and other company executives on Monday detailed the company’s new software strategy, dubbed Sun ONE.

Sun ONE, an acronym for Open Network Environment, is an architecture for creating, assembling and deploying Web services, which Sun is calling Smart Services.

Although Sun is not following exactly with the rest of the industry in naming its services, the company plans to support the de facto Web services standards: XML, SOAP (simple object access protocol), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) and WSDL (Web services description language).

The architecture includes J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), EJBs (Enterprise Java Beans), Forte for Java Tools and a number of products, including an application server offering from iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions.

Not unlike its competitors, Sun’s strategy includes pieces that are currently available, but won’t really blossom until the 2002 timeframe.

Executives also highlighted the new Sun ONE Webtop, which enables the hosting of personal productivity applications, and several updated iPlanet servers.

McNealy stressed, amid the company’s typical Microsoft-bashing, that the notion of services is not new to Sun.

“We’ve been doing network services since the day we started,” he said. “We just keep plugging along with the same thing.”

Analysts, however, said that Sun’s announcement is a direct reaction to the Web services other vendors have been touting, including IBM’s Application Framework for e-Business, Microsoft’s .NET, Hewlett-Packard’s e-services and Oracle’s Dynamic Services Framework.

“Overall, Sun is trying to beef up the software side of its business,” said Kimberly Knickle, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston.

With its end-to-end solution, Sun is going after a slice of the same pie that IBM is chasing with its WebSphere servers and tools.

“Going forward, Sun is positioned with IBM and Oracle to provide a front-line application development, deployment and integration stack,” said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston. “Sun and IBM are going like gangbusters to carve out pieces of this market because that is the next big segment that will be lucrative in the coming five years.”

Gardner added that other players in the market include IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems and Hewlett-Packard, to some extent.

IBM, for its part, claims that Sun is late to the ball game.

“In our view, Sun is starting to come around to what we have been talking about for more than a year,” said Scott Hebner, IBM’s director of marketing for WebSphere.

Even with most of the major vendors supporting Web services standards, analysts predict that the picture vendors paint of Web services being interoperable with each other won’t occur until the second or third generation of Web services.

“It’s not for nothing that everybody is jumping on this bandwagon, but [Web services] won’t translate into anything really useful anytime soon,” said Will Zacchmann, a vice president at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

With its software strategy, Sun is working to leave behind its reputation of a hardware behemoth that only builds software as a means to sell expensive big iron.

Analysts said that Sun has been struggling to move beyond its hardware-centric notoriety.

“That mentality is outdated,” Aberdeen’s Gardner said. “Sun has come a long way in proving that it has good software.”

Sun, while dominant in the Unix server arena, has also branched out into a variety of software types, such as storage and, of course, the Java platform and language.

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