Sun users offer advice to new CEO Schwartz

Wall Street isn't the only group looking for improvements from Sun Microsystems's new CEO and president, Jonathan Schwartz. Users are also candidly weighing in with some specific changes they want Sun to make, even if they see Schwartz's appointment as a sign of management continuity.

One improvement Sun should undertake, said Sam Thomas, information systems supervisor for the city of Oakland, is in its sales organization. He said Sun has too many people taking too long to give him sales decisions -- a problem that has persisted for years. The city uses a range of Sun Sparc, Solaris and storage equipment for its enterprise systems.

Thomas said that when he talks with a Sun sales representative, "the salesman had to go talk to his boss, his boss had to talk to his boss, and then his boss talked to his boss -- and then the decision would trickle down," he said. "When you want an answer, you want an answer."

Thomas, however, is otherwise pleased with the company's maintenance and praised its products, which he hopes Sun continues to improve. "If Sun has any fat, that's the organization that it's in -- in the sales," he said.

A key issue for Schwartz, who is 40, will be putting Sun in the black financially. The company's net loss for the quarter ending March 26 was US$217 million on sales that nonetheless grew 21 percent to US$3.18 billion. It was that increase that Scott McNealy, who will continue as board chairman and run the Sun Federal division, pointed to when he handed off day-to-day control of the company to his successor.

Schwartz, who talked up research and development and intellectual property development -- not cost cutting -- in conference call remarks Monday, said he would immediately begin a comprehensive review of the company's operations.

Daniel Grim, executive director of network and systems at the University of Delaware in Newark, called on Schwartz to improve independent software vendor (ISV) support for Solaris running on the company's Opteron systems. Those systems can run Solaris, Linux and Windows.

"My main message to him would be [that] I would like to have a better understanding of what their strategic directions really are relative to Sparc versus Opteron," said Grim. "We're excited about the Opteron-based systems, but we also like to run Solaris and we don't see ISVs following Solaris on to Opteron. We can buy machines that can run Linux from lots of people," he said.

Another Sun systems user, Neal Tisdale, praised Schwartz's selection. "I think it's a great change," said Tisdale, vice president of software development at the Atlanta-based subsidiary of Siemens Power Generation. "He's not trying to go up against Microsoft, which is smart -- I think he's dialed into what drives this industry." Siemens Power Generation, which conducts analytical testing for the natural gas industry, has been using Opteron-based systems.

Tisdale's only recommendation for Schwartz is to make sure the company improves its x86 support.

Lisa Saichompoo, the software and systems manager at the University of Nevada at Reno, wants to see Sun continue its focus on developing its x64 server line, which covers the company's x86 systems. "I don't think there will be much of an alarm over this change" in management, she said. "I feel it would have been quite the opposite if the new CEO was coming from outside of Sun."

With Schwartz now in place, Sun is "telling people that they need to take a close look at their business and see how they can be more efficient and grow top line revenue," said Jean Bozman, vice president of the IDC global enterprise server group. The timing of the change, one month into Sun's fourth fiscal year quarter, gives Schwartz time to lay out plans for how Sun can grow its business as it heads toward a new fiscal year.

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