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Disruptive Forces: Sun Microsystems

By Chris Gonsalves  |  Posted 2008-03-27 Print this article Print

Sun Microsystems

Location: Santa Clara, Calif.

CEO: Jonathan Schwartz

Revenues: $13.9 billion

What they do: The company that created Java and SPARC once claimed to be “the dot in dot-com.” Sun survived the Internet implosion in 2001 by pitching its network computing infrastructure products and services with the idea that “the network is the computer.” The company continues to play hard in a lot of areas, including microprocessors, software development, high-performance computing, business applications and software as a service.

Disruptive qualities: Sun is making a big bet that folks care enough about the environment—or at least about their electric bills—to rethink their data centers. That seems a safe wager since more than 3 percent of the world’s energy is being used to power IT systems. Sun is attacking what it says will be the collapse of the traditional data center with the expected mix of hardware and software, but the company maintains its freewheeling creative side with folks like Chris Melissinos, the chief gaming officer, who finds ways to incorporate gaming’s immersive virtual worlds into business software.

The tech that makes them tick: Sun is greening up IT in three areas. Its newest UltraSPARC processors deliver the industry’s best multi-threading capabilities to date, allowing users to squeeze massive performance from a smaller number of servers. The effort also depends on Sun’s aggressive Solaris and Java adoption agenda, which is fueled by the company’s championing of open-source development and the delivery of tools like Sun’s xVM open-source virtualization software. Aiming to eliminate data centers altogether, there’s Sun’s Network.com, which offers high-performance computing capability for a per-hour fee.

Who they are disrupting: Sun may be competing with tech big-iron vendors, but at the center of its disruption radar are utility companies, and the power and cooling vendors that feast on today’s sweaty, energy-hungry data centers. Vendors that can’t deliver business productivity tools both on the desktop and in the cloud are also threatened. The $1 billion purchase of MySQL in late February adds nicely to Sun’s open-source portfolio and indicates that the battle is just getting started.

Being eclipsed? Eco-friendly computing is on the minds of many tech players, but none more so than IBM, where the green data center is a major initiative. Sun also has to compete on numerous fronts against specialists such as Intel and AMD in silicon and Microsoft and Google on software.

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