A New Wave Nears: Sun Also Rises

On the heels of new storage and Linux plans, Sun will spruce up Sun One.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 9, 2002

4 Min Read

Sun Microsystems president Ed Zander decided that honesty was the best policy last week as he fielded questions in the three-day marathon that was Sun's annual financial analyst conference in San Francisco. Sun's storage strategy? "You guys are right in asking, 'Where's the beef?'" Zander quipped. Linux? "Maybe we haven't marketed it well." And the Sun Open Net Environment strategy for delivering application services over the Web? "We'll have to grade that as more-to-do in filling out the product line."

With Sun's revenue down 40% in the first six months of its fiscal year and its stock down 65% compared with a year ago, Zander and CEO Scott McNealy have grown skilled at handling tough questions. Sun officials spent much of the conference outlining a strategy to get the company back on solid footing.

Sun has to fill out its product line for delivering application services via the Web, concedes Zander.

Sun unveiled products to bolster its storage portfolio and surprised many with plans to expand support for the Linux operating system beyond the entry-level Linux systems it already sells.

Sun's flagship Solaris-on-Sparc platform remains one of the most reliable high-performance systems available--not an insignificant asset since Microsoft's Bill Gates himself has made "trustworthy computing" an industrywide issue. And the popularity of Sun's Java language continues to grow. But its plan to let customers tap into the potential of emerging Web services remains a weak spot--and one the company didn't address head-on last week.

That's about to change. Starting next week, Sun will begin filling in the blanks with more Sun One details. The road map will include a new version of the iPlanet Application Server, co-developed by Sun and Netscape, which is evolving into Sun's platform for building and running Web applications. Sun is also expected to extend its support of key Web-service standards XML, Soap, WSDL, and UDDI.

Sun One was launched last October, long after Microsoft unveiled its Web-services initiative, Microsoft.Net. Analysts attending last week's event say Sun provided a high-level overview but few details on where Sun One goes from here. According to International Data Corp. analyst Michele Rosen, Sun executives said the Java Web Services Developer Pack would be built into the iPlanet app server sometime this year, but weren't more specific.

Microsoft this week will bolster its .Net strategy with the release of the Visual Studio.Net development tool suite (see story). IBM's in the Web-services game too, having shipped support for the Web-services standards in version 4 of its WebSphere application server last summer and in its WebSphere Application Developer tools in November. For its part, Sun has delivered some Web-services support in its Forte development tools, and the iPlanet server includes a Soap toolkit.

Application servers are a centerpiece of any Web-services infrastructure. And in that product category, "BEA, IBM, and Oracle are beating iPlanet to a pulp," says Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata.

Even some companies Sun cites as model Sun One customers use alternatives when it comes to app servers. EFS Network, a private online exchange founded by Cargill, McDonald's, Sysco, and Tyson Foods, runs Solaris and iPlanet Web servers but chose BEA's WebLogic app server to handle the order-to-invoice process on its site.

EFS is at least eight months away from using Web services on its exchange, so there's still time for Sun to get a firmer foothold. "What we're currently doing is defining the strategy and conceptualizing the architecture," CIO Anthony Meigides says. Web services could save EFS money, he adds, by making it easier to publish information online for customers and integrate with their applications.

Because Web services can involve millions of potential users, they'll require high levels of reliability, availability, and security, says Greg Papadopoulos, Sun's senior VP and chief technology officer. That's one thing working in Sun's favor. Analyst firm the Standish Group estimates that Sun servers average about 20 hours of downtime per year, compared with seven days annually for Windows systems.

It's too early to count Sun out. "This vendor has resiliency and a fighter's spirit,'' Illuminata's Eunice says. Sun One VP Marge Breya believes it will take years--up to 15 of them--to build out the Web-services infrastructure. But Sun's long-term position may hinge on some near-term action.

-- with Martin J. Garvey and Karyl Scott

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