PermaLink IBM and Sun, from a customer and proponent of both03/20/2009 11:32 AM
Finally, an acquisition that makes immediate and complete sense.

I've had dealings in one way or another with both IBM and Sun for most of the last 25 or 30 years. The relationship I've had with each has had its ups and downs over the years, but lately I'm finding that I'm much happier throwing in my lot with IBM than with Sun.

I've been watching the wires and reading other people's comments all week about the possibility that Sun Microsystems could be acquired by IBM. Early on, it seemed like a lot of the comments were along the lines of, "what's in it for IBM?" I actually think there's a great deal of stuff in it for IBM, and believe it or not, considerable value for Sun and their customers.

Back in 2001, I was moving a large internal web application from Windows to Solaris. Why? Because the powers-that-be commanded us to. All production apps shall be on Solaris! they said. We had done decently on Windows, but I did want a more serverlike environment. But that's me, I still can't figure out why the fuck Microsoft put the GDI down so close to the kernel back in NT 4.0, except maybe they wanted to appease gamers. I'd have been perfectly happy with a text-mode version of Windows Server, thanks, and could never figure out why any serious server operating system would require a graphical interface.

We were moving stuff over, and the Sun specialist in the systems division asked me, "why'd you buy these? Why didn't you just buy a bunch of Linux servers?"

"Well, your bosses told us we had to," I said. That's right. We spent $550,000 on a pair of monster 6500-series Sparc server with all the toppings, not because they were necessarily "best" for what we needed to do, but because we were commanded that that was our approved platform. And so it was. We ran those 6500s for years, eventually replacing them with Sun V2000-series blades a year or so ago.

I have to say, a half-million dollars doesn't buy you reliability. In a span of time where my old, crappy Intel-based server here at home underwent one and only one serious failure, a bad motherboard that I swapped out in about an hour, those Suns died of every damn thing you can die of if you're a server. Bad FDDI. bad backplane. Bad CPU board. Bad disk controllers. Bad etherner adapters. Bad every other goddamn thing. And we experienced a bunch of failures that only Sun techs could apparently diagnose, and then there was the Waiting For Parts. Sure, their service was very good, but for a quarter-mil each, I want servers that do not need to be serviced!

And then there's Solaris itself. Forget for a moment that the Sun platform is and was very sparsely supported in the Domino world. Forget that I am forced to migrate QuickPlace/Quickr off my Suns because IBM decided to discontinue support for Quickr on Solaris. Forget that Solaris always got the last and most buggy builds. Forget that when I called IBM support it was like pulling teeth to find someone who actually knew Solaris. Forget that Sun's patch releases were an absolute adventure when it came to guessing what might not work any more thanks to their patch. Forget all that.

I just didn't like Solaris. It was always a little odd in the way it did stuff, the way it named things, the packages it contained or didn't contain. And over the years, I don't think its reliability or performance really made up for the flakiness.

But on the other hand, Java? Yeah. Only after 15 years or so is the value of Java really coming through to people. In the early days, once you wrote your little bouncing-skull applet, what did you do with Java then? Probably not a lot. Over the years, it's just been a matter of "you have to update your JRE and JVM to this rev or this other app won't work any more." But it wasn't, generally, something you used yourself. That's changing now that people are seeing what they can really do with JSP and things like that, not on the workstation side, but on the server side, and the tools are improving so that you can actually write stuff like that. And who had a lot to do with things like the Eclipse platform that made these things more palatable? IBM.

Here's what IBM gets:

  1. Access to Sun customers, who are staunch and like keeping their Sparc hardware running. Suns still run an amazing number of websites the world over, and I think IBM realized they were never going to get those customers onto iSeries any other way.
  2. Control of Java. I think it's got more potential in their hands than in Sun's hands. There are a lot of reasons for this feeling, but there it is.
  3. Solaris and OpenSolaris. Sure, I don't personally like it, but how about if IBM decided to steer away from RedHat Enterprise and instead toward OpenSolaris as their "open" service platform? It does work well.
  4. VirtualBox, which is actually a pretty good little virtualization environment that IBM could do a lot with.
  5. Sun's engineers, who are pretty good.
  6. Not having to support Solaris any more on anything, which I guarantee you they will do within two years. Solaris is just another cost and there really are not enough customers like me who want to see it supported if that effort holds back the overall progression of IBM/Lotus tools.

Here's what Sun gets:
  1. A graceful exit from the market as an entity. This stops the death watch that has been going on since 1999 or 2000, where customers weren't sure Sun was going to be around in a few years to sell them overpriced, overcomplex hardware and software.
  2. Scott McNealy gets to finally retire and play golf or buy a hockey team or something
  3. Shareholders get a nearly 100% premium on Sun's previous stock price, which they should take.

Here's what the customers get:
  1. IBM customers get back the resources that used to be spent competing with Sun and supporting Solaris when it really needs to go away.
  2. Sun customers get a track to migrate to IBM hardware and software, a path IBM I guaran-damn-tee you will make soft and rosy.
  3. I personally get a situation where my IT people will finally take Linux seriously and will implement it because there's no more Solaris option.

I'd buy that for a dollar!

Sign the deal, dudes, I'll start packing up all my old Suns and sending them to needy churches in Africa or something.

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1. Michael Sobczak03/20/2009 04:19:23 PM

I can remember when Sun refused to certify WebSphere 3 as J2EE complient. Boy, the world has sure changed since then.

I'm sure a lot of Java developers like the idea of Sun no longer serving as the "steward" of Java. If Eclipse and Dojo are any indication of what IBM can do with/for open source, Java should get a big boost in the developer community.

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