Sun touts its open source offerings

SAN FRANCISCO – The average IT manager might not think of Sun Microsystems Inc. as a software company, but CEO Jonathan Schwartz and his team are hoping to change those conceptions.

“Software is the single fastest growing business at Sun,” Schwartz said to a group of 60 international journalists at the company’s Global Media Submit in Menlo Park, Calif.

And while it’s fairly common to hear a major CEO throw out such a bold statement, one look at the latest tech headlines goes a long way to support Schwartz’s claim. The recent US$1 billion acquisition of open source database software maker MySQL, as well as a move earlier this week to buy desktop virtualization vendor Innotek GmbH, are just two of the latest additions to Sun’s emerging software division.

“It was not long ago that when you asked us what we do at Sun, the answer would always be SPARC/Solaris, but now that’s really changed,” Don Grantham, executive vice-president of global sales and services at Sun, told the crowd.

But perhaps the most telling indication of this changing philosophy is the breakdown of Sun’s US$2 billion research and development budget. Much of the budget is allocated to the company’s 10,000 engineers around the globe – over half of whom are focused exclusively on Sun software initiatives such as Solaris, Java, and almost certainly soon to be working on MySQL. Driving Sun’s software projects, and one of the major reasons the company says it wanted to acquire MySQL, is its desire to be the standard bearer of open source communities.

Rich Green, executive vice-president of software at Sun, said becoming one of the biggest open source companies in the world is giving Sun a dramatically bigger reach that other software companies won’t be able to compete against.

“With open source, we’re making downloads and registrations the lifeblood of our business as we want to reach more researchers, developers and customers with our tools,” Green said. “We want to drive … volume firstly through the dispersion of technologies, and then being able to create business opportunities through our services as well as synergistic offerings.”

Green said that when it comes to building applications and systems the most valuable artifact is the data itself, so being able to affiliate with MySQL was extremely important not only for the company’s open source strategy, but its software business as a whole. And recent partnerships to put the Solaris operating system into Intel, IBM, Dell and Microsoft products, he said, continue to demonstrate this expansion.

But as Sun continues to tread into new waters, they might also be upsetting longstanding partnerships. Sun hardware has long been a popular destination for Oracle Corp. database software – technology that plays in the same space as MySQL.

As for whether or not the acquisition means Sun will soon be competing against Oracle, Schwartz was quick to downplay the matter – reminding people that MySQL and Oracle have always been compatible.

“With this move we are not focused on competition, but rather on markets and consumers,” Schwartz said. “Opening up these technologies to more consumers and being able to have Sun’s service and support team behind MySQL was the most important reason for us.”

Schwartz also connected the MySQL purchase to the Innotek deal, in the sense that the company wants to bring virtualization technology to a new wave of customers. VirtualBox, the Germany-based virtualization company flagship program, will give Sun customers another open source system aimed at allowing developers to more efficiently build, test and run applications on multiple platforms.

And as for making two major moves in the midst of the economic struggles in the U.S. – a market which accounts for 40 per cent of Sun’s total business – Schwartz gave one piece of advice that he felt every company should follow.

“If business gets rough, the best way to drive efficiency is going to be through technology,” he said.

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