Sun exec: Users focused on products, not acquisition rumors

Hardware chief Fowler says Sun users are asking questions about reported IBM talks but still looking to solve IT problems

The head of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s hardware business acknowledged the acquisition rumors swirling around his company yesterday but insisted that customers are more focused on finding the best products to meet their IT needs than on worrying about Sun's future.

"Whenever you have, obviously, a rumor, customers are going to call you and ask you questions," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems business. "But for all our customers, we go back and emphasize what we are building, which is systems, platforms around Solaris, [and] storage and networking products. And they all solve a problem [that users] have today and will go on for many years."

Such explanations are working, according to Fowler. "So after a little bit of sturm und drang," he said, "it returns to normal, which is [customers asking], 'OK, what do I need to do, how will this technology or product solve the problem, and how do we go on from there?'"

Reports surfaced three weeks ago that IBM was in talks to buy Sun, which has been hit by a continuing drop-off in sales, declining stock prices and the need for more layoffs. Neither company has confirmed that any talks even took place, but the negotiations broke down earlier this month after a disagreement over the potential acquisition price, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fowler was reluctant to discuss the reports about the talks but did so briefly when asked about them during an interview. IBM and Sun are business partners as well as rivals, he noted.

"IBM is a partner in a number of areas," Fowler said. "We do a lot of business with IBM Global Services ... [and] we cooperate on Java. IBM is also a licensee of Solaris and ships Solaris with its x64 systems. So there's a range of technology areas where we have, over many years, worked together, like we do with many other large tech companies."

Sun today announced a line of servers based on Intel Corp.'s Xeon 5500 processors, building flash memory into them in an attempt to boost application response. But various analysts have questioned whether the uncertainty about Sun's future could cause customers, especially new ones, to hold back on purchases for the time being.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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