There’s a lot (perhaps too much) in the blogosphere about Oracle’s acquisition of Sun and the failures of the pony-tailed one. As a result I’ve avoided any comment, despite the fact that the content to date seems to have been dominated by the views of those whose involvement is restricted to the ownership of shares.
The truth is that Sun’s performance has been mediocre (in financial terms) for much of its existence, with the exception of the brief period of the dot-com boom when the fortunate acquisition of Cray’s assets meant it could launch the E10k and build a market capitalisation that far exceeded reality. If you joined that particular gravy train then you did well, and deserve congratulations, but if you took that as a model of the future then I’m sorry, because it was an aberration. Sun was, is, and always would have been a really terrific innovator, with a solid product portfolio and decent cash flow. Market valuation wasn’t something they ever seemed able to control because they didn’t deliver what the market values. Instead, they delivered cash, and employment opportunities for some really good people. While it could reasonably be argued that they should have cut much larger numbers of staff earlier in the post dot-com downturn, in some respects I’m glad they were reluctant to do so.
When Schwartz took over Sun was in a mess. The company had a terrible product range, had an aversion to Microsoft and to Intel, and had ended Solaris on x86. It was still playing with niche products (anyone remember the Majc chip?) and proprietary architectures for storage, I/O and other applications. Schwartz changed this. He recognised the importance of Solaris combined with hardware innovation based on standard product. He also recognised the importance of developer traction, and of the subscription business model pioneered by Red Hat. He created the environment in which Solaris with ZFS and DTrace prospered, and in which Sun Open Storage (a real competitor to NetApp, particularly in combination with Oracle) could be created. It’s clear that not everything he did worked, like the StorageTek acquisition (puzzling then and still puzzling now) or the reverse stock split. However, what more do we expect from a CEO, other than to create the opportunities for prosperity and to sell a company at the right time and at a premium on the current share price? If he could not realise some imagined value that we might have had, I’m not sure that’s really his fault.
Ultimately, I hope Sun will remain a brand, but what I really care about is Solaris and Java, and Schwartz played his part in ensuring that those technologies survived. My thanks go to him.
Oracle is a great brand. Sun is a great brand. They both have great technologies. Let’s toast the future.