Sun feels the heat but comes out fighting


4 Dec 2003

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BERLIN: Founder, CEO, chairman and president of Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy was in ebullient form in Berlin yesterday as the embattled technology giant brought its SunNetwork customer conference to Europe for the first time. In line with Sun’s one-year-old strategy of releasing new products en masse on a quarterly basis, the new product announcements were incremental improvements rather than major new departures.

McNealy’s keynote speech focused on his vision of network computing and Java that underlines the quarterly strategy and both the Java Enterprise System and Java Desktop System. “Car manufacturers are shipping a system that is complete and works,” said McNeely “and that’s very different to the computer industry where vendors tend to sell car parks.”

McNealy asked the audience of customers why they have to implement a unique system from a variety of manufacturers for relatively standard tasks such as email. By releasing updates on a quarterly basis and through initiatives such as N1 and the Java Enterprise System, Sun plans to offer complete systems to customers – something McNealy called “gift-wrapped software”.

McNealy also claimed that Sun’s Java has become the development platform of choice over Microsoft’s .Net citing Java smart cards, wireless devices, set-top boxes, games consoles and application servers as areas where Sun dominates.

The recently announced partnership with chipmaker AMD was further cemented with the introduction of the Sun Fire B100x, a sub-US$1,800 single-processor blade server based on AMD’s Mobile Athlon XP 1800 processor. McNealy scotched Intel’s plans for its 64-bit Itanium processor by dubbing it the “I-tanic”. Sun plans to release systems for the 64-bit AMD Opteron early in the new year but says it remains committed to its own 64-bit SPARC microprocessors despite the support for Intel-compatible systems.

NC03Q4, the official title of this quarterly release of product, also included two new SPARC processor-based Netra servers for the telecommunications sector, a high performance blade workstation and seven new reference architectures to help customers quickly adopt Sun technology in specific applications. These included a migration path for users of HP’s Tru64 architecture which is being phased out over the coming years.

The theme that Sun executives kept returning to was driving cost and complexity out of customers’ IT infrastructure. A table of price comparisons on key products attempted to drive home the message that Sun’s hardware is cheaper than competitors such as Dell and HP and also considerably cheaper than its own comparative offerings of three years ago. The US$100 per user annual licence fee for Java was also held up as a revolution in the IT industry.

As usual McNealy took great delight in bashing competitors. He dismissed HP as a “printer research company”, called the Microsoft platform “a virus delivery system” and made repeated digs at IBM’s services model.

McNealy would not be drawn on the company’s financials other than to say it has a cash pile of US$5.5bn and intends to return to profitability at some future date.

By John Collins