Sun Snatches Thin-Client Software Maker Tarantella

Tarantella software is designed to provide access to server-based applications and could help Sun's utility-computing strategy.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

May 10, 2005

3 Min Read

Sun Microsystems is looking to advance its utility-computing strategy through the acquisition of Tarantella Inc., a provider of software used by desktop PCs and other client devices to access and manage data over the Web. Sun expects the transaction, worth about $25 million, to close by September.

Tarantella's Secure Global Desktop software is designed to provide secure access to server-based applications running on Linux, Unix, Microsoft Windows, mainframe, and midrange operating systems. Like competitor Citrix Systems, Tarantella's business revolves around providing thin-client devices with access to enterprise applications and information residing on back-end servers.

Although Tarantella's market presence has been on the decline, Secure Global Desktop is used by companies that espouse the server-based computing model that Sun has promoted to, in part, compete with competitors Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, all of which relied on a PC business at one time and were heavily indebted to Microsoft for their desktop operating systems.

With Tarantella's technology, applications aren't stored or run locally on a PC. Users access their applications through a Web browser by authenticating themselves to a server running Tarantella's software. Once they're authenticated, users access their applications through an HTML-based desktop which allows them access only to the apps they have permission to use.

Now that Sun has access to the source code for Tarantella's software, the company will sell the thin-client technology both as a standalone product and as an integrated part of its Solaris platform, Sun executive VP John Loiacono said at a Tuesday press conference. "Having it fully integrated with Solaris makes it that much more functional," he added. "Because we can integrate with Solaris, we can use those management tools."

Sun remains committed to the thin-client model, which the company sees as easier to manage and more secure than PCs. "The maintenance simplicity is dramatic," Loiacono said. Still, Loiacono acknowledged that Sun isn't looking to create a general PC-replacement technology. Sun will also continue to work with its customers using competing Citrix technology.

The acquisition of Tarantella ultimately will make it easier for Sun customers to deploy desktops that run either open-source StarOffice applications or those from Microsoft, says David Friedlander, a Forrester Research senior analyst. In the short term, Tarantella's Global Secure Desktop won't deliver much incremental revenue to Sun, but longer term, it could help Sun's overall desktop strategy.

The move also puts Sun's R&D and marketing engines behind technology developed by Tarantella, which had unsuccessfully tried to compete with Citrix in the $2 billion annual software market for server-based computing, Friedlander says.

Tarantella began its life as Santa Cruz Operation Inc., which in August 2000 sold its Unix server software and services divisions, as well as UnixWare and OpenServer operating systems, to Caldera Systems Inc. Santa Cruz Operations renamed itself Tarantella and focused on producing Web-enabled terminal-services applications. Caldera, meanwhile, renamed itself The SCO Group, developed technology for running Unix on x86-based servers, and has become infamous for a multibillion-dollar Linux-related lawsuit against IBM.

It's been an active week on the acquisition front for Sun. The company earlier this week said it's buying intellectual-property rights to network-attached storage technology from Procom Technology for about $50 million.

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