Sun: alive and plans to keep kicking

Dr Mcisaac's observations about open source technology and Sun (Computerworld article online September 16, in print September 22, p8) raise a number of interesting questions.

If open source software is no less expensive than proprietary software, why are enterprises buying it? The answer is that Linux’s appeal is not the low cost of acquisition. Rather, it is a desire to take advantage of the economies of industry standard 32-bit, x86-based hardware without having to resort to the high cost of ownership of the Windows OS.

Dr McIsaac’s comments about Sun indicate that he may not be aware that Sun, in response to this demand, has made a number of significant introductions in the 32-bit space in the past year and in doing so, opening new markets for our products. Customers tell us they want choice, so we now offer the Solaris Operating System for both 64-bit Sparc and 32-bit x86 systems. Our Sun Fire V60x server is a highly competitive, entry-level, general-purpose x86-based server and supports the Solaris Operating System (x86 platform edition) as well as standard Linux distributions — all at a price point lower than Dell.

In addition to offering x86-based systems, Sun’s recently announced Java Enterprise System delivers an affordable, simple to use, open source-based solution for the desktop environment that will interoperate between Microsoft Windows and Unix.

For just $A175 per employee, Sun Java Desktop System consists of a fully integrated client environment including the GNOME desktop environment, StarOffice Office Productivity Suite, Mozilla browser, Evolution mail and calendar and Java 2 Standard Edition. The software is supported on both the Solaris and Linux operating systems.

The Java Desktop System is set to dramatically change the dynamics of the software industry, and already the Australian market has responded with interest. At an 80 per cent saving over Microsoft Windows/Office XP upgrade (roughly 90 per cent less than full versions), and with the added benefits of built-in security (Linux/Unix security system root access control prevents viruses from modifying files and Java sandbox security prevents viruses from infecting the system environment), it’s not surprising business and governments are interested.

Dr McIsaac’s comments about Intel microprocessors powering the systems that replace Unix and mainframes are simply naïve. While many customers will opt for the value inherent in low cost 32-bit servers (and we have responded to that demand) the need for Unix systems is not in peril. The end of the mainframe era was predicted over a decade ago and still has failed to materialise. Like mainframes, Unix servers will continue to be sold into applications which demand high availability, scalability, enhanced security and other advanced computing features that can only be realised in a true 64-bit environment like the Solaris Operating System.

The second issue Dr McIsaac raises regards Sun’s “relevance” as a company. What’s truly irrelevant is the comparison of Sun to DEC, given Sun’s proven ability to reinvent itself in response to shifting customer demands — the x86, Linux and Java Desktop System releases being just recent examples.

We remain fiscally fit with sizable cash reserves of more than $US5.5 billion. With more than 20,000 iForce partners and over three million Java developers helping customers make the most of Sun’s products and services, Sun has some of the strongest partnerships in the IT industry today.

We have an installed base of $US120 billion, a rock-solid strategy for network computing, a history of relentless innovation that shows no signs of letting up, and tens of thousands of global customers who choose Sun to help them solve complex network computing problems.

Six years ago, analysts predicted the demise of Sun and said that our survival was dependent on embracing Intel and Microsoft. If we had believed them, there would be no Java. There would be no platform that enables developers to write applications once that can then be deployed on anything with a digital heartbeat, be it a car, a mobile phone, a Unix server, a Linux desktop, or a Windows PC.

Java is an innovation success story and where would our industry be without innovation? A relevant question to ask, as without Sun, the market is left with Intel and Microsoft that will have little incentive to innovate.

World markets have proven time and again that if technology is left to monopolists, innovation stagnates. That’s why we have anticompetitive legislation in Western economies — to protect innovation and encourage competition.

As Dr McIsaac himself says, “It is important to have several viable competitors to avoid single-vendor vision and drive down costs.”

To write off Sun is to embrace a ubiquitous, commoditised computer marketplace and that is not likely in the near future. There are too many companies, governments and universities that embrace innovation for Sun’s markets to die. There is a minimum of 30 years of development and innovation in IT to be realised. Innovation that will change our children’s lives as much as the last 30 years have changed the lives of their parents. Sun has and will continue to push the boundaries of innovation and conventional wisdom, and in doing so, be an important part of that future.

Sun’s vision of network computing is alive and well. We understand network computing. We practically invented it. For more than 20 years we’ve said the network is the computer and that vision is as clear today as when we started.

Jim Hassel Managing director Sun Microsystems Australia & New Zealand

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