Many Sun Products to Wither and Die

By Andi Mann

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If it goes through, the acquisition of Sun will be an interesting challenge for Oracle. Oracle doesn’t have a hardware business today, and that will make for a challenging new business model to accommodate. Sun has an excellent line of servers but has struggled with market share (9.3%), and faces even stronger competition going forward (e.g., from Cisco). With slumping budgets, declining server market, and a moribund Sun, Oracle will be hard-pressed to make the hardware side of this deal a strong success.

Indeed, the bulk of whatever value still exists within Sun is on the software side. Oracle gains control of Java, securing the core of its Fusion middleware, but at EMA, where we specialize in IT management, we see the management and infrastructure solutions as the jewel in this deal.

To start with, the deal combines two of the leaders in identity management. While the future of the combined portfolio is not yet clear, it clearly threatens IBM as well as CA directly in this space. Sun's position had weakened with the departure of key figures such as much of the executive team of the former Waveset, but the IP acquired with the deal will more than enhance Oracle's already strong position in identity.

Sun will also help bolster the flagship of Oracle’s systems management portfolio, Oracle Enterprise Manager (EM). EM is a solid management solution, with surprisingly deep capabilities. However, it is very Oracle-centric, and that has always been its biggest sticking point. Sun's Ops Center (which, like EM, is broadly underrated), Management Center, and N1 solutions will combine with EM very organically. The combination will go a long way toward lifting Oracle in the management stakes.

Of course, Sun was not exactly beating the market in IT management, so even the combined solutions of Sun and Oracle will not rival larger vendors like IBM/Tivoli or HP (or non-hardware management vendors like BMC Software), in breadth of functionality and platform support especially. For Sun and Oracle enterprise customers, this makes Oracle very attractive as a primary management vendor, because it has exceptional depth and expertise in those specific areas.

Oracle also picks up some strong virtualization and virtual systems management (VSM) capabilities too. EMA shows Oracle VM a distant 10th place in virtualization penetration, and Oracle has limited VSM capabilities. Coupled with its recent purchase of Virtual Iron, Oracle may just have a chance in the “iron-to-app” market, as it can deliver the complete stack of server virtualization, OS, storage, database, middleware, applications, virtual desktops, security, physical systems management, and virtual systems management. The major missing link is networking. (Maybe an indicator of future acquisition opportunities?)

The Challenges

However, there are still significant concerns for Oracle. Oracle is likely to cater primarily to a homogeneous market (Sun/Oracle customers are by far its sweet spot), so it will be challenged to support the heterogeneity found in the vast majority of data centers. Add-ons will still be required so both "all-in-one" vendors and niche players will still be very competitive.

Sun customers in particular also face substantial risk. Solaris and Open Solaris are heavily threatened by this move, and likely to wither on the vine as Oracle puts its wood instead behind Linux. MySQL, a direct competitor to Oracle’s bread and butter database products, is also at risk. Oracle may keep MySQL to help penetrate the coveted SMB space, but more likely will let it wither too as it is unable to monetize open source; and instead finds it cannibalizes core database sales.

Similarly, Sun xVM (including OpsCenter) presumably is dead already (as is Virtual Iron), just waiting to be buried by Oracle VM and Oracle EM. They will be missed by a small core, but Oracle is not the sort of organization to go to market with multiple competing products (and it will always favor home-grown alternatives). For customers that valued the innovative, risk-taking (i.e., pony-tailed) attitudes at Sun, these too will be dead before too long; subsumed into the rigid corporate structures of Larry Ellison’s Oracle.

Ultimately, this will all be good news for Oracle, and even for Oracle customers, as they get more functionality, integration, and support, albeit at a price. However, for Sun’s employees, technology, customers, and culture, this is probably the final bell. Soon enough Sun will be no more than a fond memory as Oracle dismantles all that is left of the once formidable innovator. And that, in itself, will be a loss for all of IT.

Andi Mann is VP of Research, Systems & Storage Management at Enterprise Management Associates, an IT analyst firm focused on enterprise management systems and services. Andi has over 20 years experience across four continents working with large-scale Enterprise systems, including mainframes, midrange, servers, and desktops. He has worked in IT operations and management for many large corporations, and in a range of technical and product management positions with several enterprise software vendors.