The Case for Matching Sun & EMC

Our world is never static, but as I write this, we are going through a particularly
nasty period of upheaval.

Print publications are dying left and right. The latest examples are US News &
World Report
and The Christian Science Monitor, which have thrown in the towel
on their print editions. Forbes magazine just merged its print and online
divisions, resulting in 43 more journalists looking for work. Happy holidays.

Likewise, the tech industry is working through some wrenching change, some more than
others in the difficult economy.

Take Sun Microsystems, which recently announced that it would cut its workforce by
6,000 people, or 15 to 18 percent. The company hopes its restructuring
plan will save $700 million to $800 million annually. Is it enough to stay the course or
does Sun need a buyer?

The Problem With Its Parts

One of the problems with Sun’s continued slide is that its UltraSPARC line of chips is
falling out of favor and there’s little the company can do to reverse this. The competing
x86
architecture
has found new life with the successful jump to 64-bit computing systems,
and enterprises tend to stay with a commodity platform such as x86 over one built by a
single vendor.

Think about this: Intel is crowing about its new chip that does two threads per each
of its four cores, while Sun has a chip that does eight threads per core and has eight
cores. The benchmarks for its new
T5440 are
incredible. Intel can’t come close.

But perception is everything. Sun may make good hardware but it’s an x86 world, even
if x86 servers can’t match UltraSPARC for performance. Meanwhile, IBM is holding onto a
nice piece of the high-end server pie with its Power line, and HP has its Itanium
products; there is just only so much room for non-x86 platforms. Quarter after quarter,
Gartner and IDC report server stats that show that Sun is selling hardware to a shrinking
customer base, which is migrating to IBM or HP.

Since Sun’s most recent quarterly loss $1.7 billion, speculation is ramping up about
whether parts of the company may be sold off to save it.

Industry watchers doubt that board members of Sun would let the company be carved up
like a Thanksgiving day turkey. They may have no choice.

Reuters reported that
Southeastern Asset Management
, which holds 20 percent of Sun’s shares, might go
around Sun’s board of directors and talk to “third parties” about alternatives.

Sizing Up the Prospects

Fujitsu’s name gets thrown around the most as a potential buyer because of the lengthy
partnership between the two firms.

IBM? It really doesn’t need Sun and is doing fine converting Sun customers to its
hardware as fast as it can. Buying Sun would net it Java, but IBM has nearly taken it
over already.

As for HP, that firm is transitioning off its RISC chip, the PA-RISC. All those
engineers are now with Intel, working on the Itanium server lines and competing with
UltraSPARC. Dell doesn’t appear suited for big acquisitions right now, unless the betting
is on an SGI purchase.

So how about EMC? The company, considered the first name in storage with an aggressive
acquisition history, appears to be a partial match.

EMC specializes in network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN),
while Sun’s StorageTek line specializes in tape-based storage. Granted, EMC doesn’t like
tape storage, but it can’t ignore the market for tape storage, either.

Also, Sun possess plenty of other technologies that have been brought to bear in the
storage market. The Sun Fire X4500
server, a.k.a. Thumper, combines a Sun server running Opteron chips, the Solaris
operating system and ZFS file system.

Server performance is becoming an issue, as Oracle pointed out with its HP-built
Exadata database
servers. A plain old server just doesn’t work any more. Servers need a little software
and hardware assistance to move data at a faster rate. So vendors are now building
accelerated servers to improve throughput. This could be a compelling combination for EMC
to ponder in Sun.

With its own technologies combined with the Niagara 2 chip, Solaris and ZFS, EMC could
come back with a product line that could challenge the HP’s systems. Sun technologies
could also augment the new EMC line of cloud storage systems called Atmos, as those
clearly could use some kind of intelligence and computing power.

Then there’s the software side. The potential of EMC and Java is huge, given EMC’s
efforts to move into a more software-oriented strategy — from RSA security to database
replication, content management, backup and recovery. Java’s server-side strengths could
fit this strategy well.

Then there is the potential match with VMware, such as putting the Java Virtual

Machine
in the same layer as the virtual machine layer, which leads to the
possibility of controlling Java apps across all the virtualized systems from a single
layer and single VM; thus, the virtual server knows what all of the apps are up to.

Databases are rarely virtualized, but with MySQL in-house, EMC could find a way to
make at least one database much more suitable to virtualization. The competitive
advantage there would again put EMC in a unique position.

There is one big snag to this EMC/Sun theory. EMC has displayed no interest in the
open source movement, while Sun has embraced it in a big way.

This could prove a no-win situation if EMC picks up Sun and open source advocates
demand that it open source other products — especially if
GPL-licensed
products start mixing with EMC software. If EMC balks, it could wreck
the goodwill Sun has built over the last few years. Then again, goodwill doesn’t pay the
bills.

Plus, the cultures between the two could lead to some real problems. Joe Tucci is as
no-nonsense as they come, and his gruff nature permeates the staff of EMC. That’s led to
clashes with VMware, and could cause problems with the laid back culture of Sun.

But looking up and down the EMC product lines, it’s clear they offer the best chance
for Sun’s products to not only live on, but to thrive and offer customers more innovative
choices.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor for InternetNews.com based in the San Francisco
bureau.

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com

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