Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I don't want IBM to buy Sun

The grapevine is abuzz with rumors that IBM is offering to acquire Sun for about $6.5 billion. Want to know my opinion? I don't like it one bit. While IBM benefits by having a bigger piece of the server market, the two companies have a lot of overlapping areas and they can't all get priority. AIX or Solaris? Websphere or Glassfish? Eclipse or Netbeans? Power or Sparc? But those clashes aren't the real issues as far as I am concerned. The real issue is that if IBM acquires Sun, innovation will be stifled.

Stifling Innovation

When I say that innovation will be stifled, I am not talking about technical innovation fallout as a result of a culture clash. While there will no doubt be some issues when IBM's east coast, button down, all-business approach meets Sun's west coast, pony-tail wearing, engineer-centric style, that is not the point I am trying to address. The area of innovation I am worried about is that of Sun's open source business strategy.

IBM is not an "open source company"

No one can deny that IBM is a friend to open source. Their backing of Linux has been monumentally beneficial; but when all is said and done, IBM is a proprietary software company. Their software integrates with open source and builds upon open source, but in general it isn't open source. IBM's software strategy is actually more similar to Oracle's than it is to Sun's.

Let the Sun shine

The software world is still experimenting and trying to find the best way to make money with open source. Sun has the potential to lead the charge in a way that Red Hat can't. Sun's CEO has outlined a clear strategic vision for how Sun will make money with open source software:
  1. Software: Selling support and services to those that find free to be a more expensive alternative than commercially supported
  2. Hardware: Disrupting the proprietary Storage and Networking markets by selling compelling, integrated appliances based on general purpose hardware and open source software.
  3. The Network is the computer: Relaunching as cloud computing platform that is:
    • Open: Creative Commons licensed, community reviewed APIs.
    • Enterprise-friendly: lets you create interoperable private clouds in your datacenter based on technology acquired from Q-layer.
    • Developer friendly: integrates with Virtualbox & Netbeans, runs MySQL & Glassfish.
I think this is a winning strategy and I would love to see it work, but I fear it may not survive the take over. Sun's strategy relies very heavily on the fact they have "burned the boats" that carried them away from proprietary software and marched forth into a brave new world of open source. The arrival of IBMs fleet would make all too easy for them return to old, comfortable, proprietary ways.

They say that necessity is the mother of all inventions, looking at Sun's stock price they need to show the world that they have (or can hire) the ability to execute. The recession presents an opportunity for them as CIOs are forced to reevaluate their existing software contracts. Sun has already trimmed down its work-force to make sure that they themselves can survive in the medium term. The only question is whether or not shareholders are patient enough to wait for the results.

Perhaps another suitor

I am not opposed to somebody acquiring Sun, as long as the acquisition doesn't change the current strategy. I have heard Fujitsu mentioned as an possibility; I can't claim to know much about them but Sun and Fujitsu seem to collaborate at a number of levels ranging from sales and support to processor/server design. In Jamaica, Fujitsu is the principal authorized reseller of Sun Servers.

Yahoo! off the table

In spite of the fact that I have been rooting for the merger, I don't see a Yahoo!/Sun deal happening any time soon. Now that IBM has stepped up to the plate, investors would surely scoff at an offer from the wounded internet giant. If Sun and Yahoo! can get their acts together independently I would still like to see at least some kind of collaboration down the line. Sun has stepped up to the plate and made its Infrastructure-as-a-service plans clear. Yahoo! just needs to focus on creating its Software-as-a-Service (starting with Zimbra) and Platform-as-a-Service (built around PHP/MySQL and Hadoop) offerings.

I hope to blog some more about Zimbra and some potential companion products soon. The world needs an open source challenger to go up against Microsoft, Cisco and IBM in the Unified Communications and Collaboration market.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. I don't like the strategies and visions of the shit and bureaucratic IBM.

This deal will definitely kill Java and all the goodies of Sun.

Damn its so sad to hear about that.

Anonymous said...

Potential merge helps IBM only. Not Sun. After couple of months Sun's will be eaten like any other (160 according Wiki) acquired companies. Sad true. IBM promotes technical culture which is more technocratic than Sun's "open" vision.

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