Sun's Ed Zander attacks Microsoft

As you might expect, Ed Zander, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s president and COO, is not happy about the Department of Justice's proposed settlement of the Microsoft case. But he also has other things on his mind. In an interview last week with InfoWorld's Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, Executive Editor Martin LaMonica, and West Coast News Editor Mark Jones, Zander outlined his vision for Java, instant messaging, open standards, and an upcoming storage initiative.

InfoWorld: What did you make of the Justice Department's ruling on Microsoft and the proposed settlement?

Zander: Well there's a steady indication that they're not breaking it up, but they're also going backward even with the initial remedy. So it seems like the Justice Department and the U.S. government wasted a ton of money and time to basically do nothing. It's a pretty depressing waste of taxpayers' money.

InfoWorld: Will Sun, or any other company, consider taking actions on their own?

Zander: I don't know what we're going to do. But it's pretty amazing that the [U.S. government] finds [Microsoft] guilty and we go from one extreme of talking about breaking them up to doing nothing. We're going to allow the OEMs to bundle whatever software they want. And considering there's no other software, it doesn't even make a difference.

InfoWorld: What do you think should happen? For example, was breaking up Microsoft a good idea?

Zander: I've got to be careful about [responding for] Sun versus me in particular. The breakup, to me, wasn't necessarily something that I looked at and said, 'Wow, that's what we've got to go do.' I was more concerned with the way [Microsoft] operates their business, the way they use pricing and their money and dollars and contracts. There should be a remedy [to] their ability to buy companies and to put companies out of business. I think there's a huge issue about controlling all aspects of the Internet. I thought there were ways that [the Justice Department] could impose certain restrictions on Microsoft that would still allow them to compete and innovate and be No. 1 in their spaces, but allow all of us to also have the opportunity to sell our products.

InfoWorld: Could you give us your perspective on where you see the Sun ONE initiative as it relates to Sun's overall software initiatives, and how that relates to Sun's stewardship of Java?

Zander: Well first of all, you've got to look at 20 years of Sun [history]. We get classified, and probably rightfully so, as this hardware company that sells workstations and servers. But we have 10,000 or so engineers, and two-thirds of them are [developing] software, so it gives you an idea of where we think the core competencies of the company are and what our intellectual property is. I think in some respects we're a software company that's dressed in hardware sheet metal. We also believed that sedimentation would happen.

Two years ago there were 30 app server companies. Today there are literally none that handle just app servers. We knew that was going to happen. Probably the only freestanding company left is BEA. And the thing we also noticed in 1998 and 1999 is that more companies were asking for architectural support. So that led us to do the professional services build-out.

We've got 3,000 people now based around practices such as Sun ONE storage. And so in some respect, from a product perspective, Sun ONE is it. Sun ONE is a combination of a four-year strategy. It's basically getting Solaris 8 out the door, getting the Forte tools out and aimed at our app server. And the other is the iPlanet products, in which today we have the No. 1 directory: LDAP. So if we take all of that and build an integratable stack around it and tie it into our servers, that's our story that's working in the marketplace today.

InfoWorld: Do you worry that there'll be further consolidation and you won't have quite as many companies in this community pushing Java?

Zander: The fact is there are two camps now in the world. There is the Microsoft camp and the Java camp. If you look at Nokia, Sony, Motorola, GM, and OnStar, everybody doing appliances, consumer devices, you'll find Java J2ME [Java 2 Micro Edition] just about in every one of those devices. It's dominating Microsoft. At the enterprise side, there's not an account I walk into that isn't doing J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition]. Now they could do Web Sphere, they could do Web Logic, they could do iPlanet. So J2EE is [winning] on the enterprise side and Java's won on the consumer side. We have completely changed the overall governance [of Java] in the last two years, and we now have, I think, 10, 20 companies as part of the governance model. So I feel very confident that we've separated [Sun and Java].

InfoWorld: What is Sun doing to broaden its hardware portfolio in the storage and networking areas?

Zander: We come at it from a three-tier computing model: Dedicated application devices, app servers, and the backend with big database servers. And we're firing on all three fronts. So Solaris and clustering are at the backend, and in the middle are some of our midrange servers together with some of the middleware from Sun ONE. At the front is Cobalt, the Netras, and the [Sun Fire] V880s, with some of the dedicated applications and dedicated functionality to go after the edge devices.

As far as storage goes, storage has always been a software play. We've always thought about it as EMC and big boxes that get decomposed and get unproprietized, that software moves to the Internet, and that virtualization and storage over IP is the way to go. That's why we picked up [storage companies] High Ground and LSC. We've got an announcement coming in the next 60 days equivalent to Sun ONE. We're not going to call it Storage ONE, but it's going to be software architecture and products based around running heterogeneous environments using the network.

InfoWorld: In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, are customers coming to you and talking about shifting their data center strategies more? Are they more conscious of trying to build on a distributed architecture?

Zander: Yes and no. I think some customers of ours actually did a pretty good job in disaster recovery. They used the network, they used our technology. Some of the systems had backup and had remote centers. You can see [the results] by how fast Wall Street came back and how fast some of these companies came back. Disaster recovery, security, clustering, and backup are now big buzzwords in these accounts.

The real rally cry in corporations now is total cost of ownership. It's a little different than it was a year and a half, two years ago where it was [the mind frame of] 'everything to the Internet, e-commerce everything, let's start up a million projects.' Money was not necessarily as much of an issue as it is today. Also, we lost our entire New York data center -- we were on two floors there and we got wiped out, and we basically had everything organized pretty well.

InfoWorld: This interview was originally timed to coincide with Sun's recent announcements regarding the addition of instant messaging to the iPlanet Portal Server. How well do you see Sun competing and penetrating the desktop environment with instant messaging?

Zander: I think Sun and instant messaging is about Sun ONE versus .Net, and I don't even think they're competitors. .Net to me is still a very desktop-centric environment. I haven't met a corporation that is going to build the mission-critical data center on .Net. I mean they're going to build it either on iPlanet, they're going to build it on WebSphere, they're going to build it on Web Logic. They're going to look at what Oracle's got. So I don't see a mailbox and messaging system that scales across an enterprise. I don't see a Web server that is virus-free.

The messaging we announced was not aimed at the consumer or even the desktop. It's browser-based. The nice thing about it is we cut a deal with AOL so we're going to have interoperability with AOL's instant messaging. And I think as much as .Net's getting a lot of play, holy mackerel, show me a financial institution or a transportation company or any company out there that at the enterprise level is thinking about Active Directory or is thinking about a Biztalk.

InfoWorld: During the instant messenger announcement, you commented that .Net is Microsoft's play to become a service provider, whereas you said Sun was going to sell software. Will Sun ever get into the business of renting software?

Zander: That's the thing about Microsoft: They want to compete with Visa, with American Express, Nokia, Sony. And it's not about our battle as much as it is every company that [owns] a customer. Microsoft wants all the customers. With Hailstorm or Passport, you give them all your identification, your credit cards, all your identity, and then they authorize it. And then there is Visa -- you've got to pay Microsoft to be the credit card of choice, or Sony if you want to buy TVs or whatever. And the whole idea is to own the transactions, to own the services, and to collect a royalty on everything that goes on the Internet.

I'm not the one that [objects]. Talk to the guys at GM. Talk to the Liberty Group. The Liberty Group is 32 companies, of which we're just one, and we're not even the mouthpiece for it. Go talk to the companies that are in there and they're worried like heck about the implications of Passport and Hailstorm and Microsoft owning services. We just want to be a software company that's based on standards.

But the Microsoft world is just one standard: theirs. And that's what other companies are seeing, so I think we've got to fight another battle here. If we're not careful, we're going to see that five years from now the entire Internet is going to be pretty much owned from a software technology and transaction point of view by Microsoft, just the way they own the desktop. The entire software food chain, if we're not careful, from cell phones to backend systems and identification authentication, is all going to go the way of Microsoft because there's no way for us to compete in a very closed world that's controlled by one company.

It means that Microsoft has to compete for every piece of the food chain. They've got to build the best app server, the best database, the best development tools, the best operating system for a cell phone. Microsoft has to build the best authentication and authorization-type technology. If they win fair and square, that's fine. But history tells us that Microsoft hasn't built anything in 20 years that has been innovative or [demonstrated] leadership.

I mean, Mac OS is still a better operating system than Windows, and I can go down the path on any piece of technology and show you better implementations that haven't made it because of the [Microsoft] lock-in. So that's it. That's the pitch.

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