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Q&A: Schwartz says financial meltdown plays into Sun's hands

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz claims that server vendor was 'preconfigured for the downturn'

October 13, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Jonathan Schwartz thinks that the economic downturn and Wall Street meltdown will make IT managers more open to change than they may ever have been before. And that is going to benefit Sun and its open-source strategy, contends Schwartz, who is also the company's president and a high-profile blogger. In an interview with Computerworld last Thursday, he spoke about the economy, technology, innovation and servers. Excerpts follow:

What are you doing to help your customers with the economic problems? We are preconfigured for the downturn. If you think about the discretionary expenses that go into operating a data center, first and foremost there's the physical plant itself — the physical space, the power consumption, the HVAC. So all the work that we do around energy efficiency, and on getting optimal performance — a lot of folks say, 'Gee, Sun, why are you so focused on the environment?' It's because the environment ends up being a huge operating expense for our customers. And to the extent that we can help them lower their environmental impact, we're also lowering the economic impact on their businesses. That's clearly Job 1.

The second element of discretionary expense is software licensing, and probably the single biggest software license that our customers have to pay for is [to buy] proprietary databases. Second on that list are proprietary application servers and an application infrastructure. I just was with a customer this morning who didn't recognize that he had roughly 2,000 developers working with MySQL because it wasn't a purchase standard [within his organization], but it had become the de facto [database] standard. He didn't recognize that he could get that level of productivity [from an open-source database].

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO, Sun
Jonathan Schwartz

GlassFish — the same is true for the application server marketplace. OpenSolaris — now that it is multivendor and multiplatform and the source is available, those environments where you don't need support don't have to pay for it. And then we enable customers that want to subscribe in production environments to pay for the supported version. Across the board, whether it is hardware or software, you are going to see some great systems innovations coming from Sun. The [server] platform that we are launching Monday is a good example of what happens when you bring all of that together: You end up reducing customer spending. That, by the way, doesn't mean that you reduce your revenue; it means you take share from your competition.

Do you really expect customers in the near term — with the economic downturn — to, say, swap out an Oracle database and replace it with MySQL? Unquestionably. Now that doesn't mean they are leaving Oracle — Oracle is a fantastic company, and they've built a fantastic database. But there is no longer one-size-fits-all in the enterprise database marketplace.

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