Java has been a blessing for Sun Microsystems Inc. But for Sun’s revenue-driving hardware business, could Java turn out to be a curse?
More than any other company, Sun is tying its future–in the form of its successful RISC-based hardware business–to Java. While other RISC vendors are hedging their bets by embracing Windows NT and pledging support for Intel Corp.’s IA-64 architecture, Sun remains steadfast in its opposition to the Wintel camp.
With Java still unproven in the enterprise, that’s a risky bet. But it’s one that Sun is willing to make.
“The whole strategy behind Java is to create a level playing field; the master plan is to have a chance to compete,” said John Loiacono, director of strategy and branding at Sun Microsystems Computer Co., in Mountain View, Calif.
Such competition creates a double-edged sword for Sun. If Java does take hold as a viable, platform-independent environment for enterprise sites, it could negate Sun’s claims that its Unix-based SPARC processors provide unique advantages over Wintel systems.
“Java penetrates the corporate strategy on all levels,” said Jacek Myczkowski, vice president of development at Thinking Machines Corp., a Sun shop in Bedford, Mass. “But the verdict’s still way out if they can parlay that up the [product] food chain.”
A door opener?
Sun claims that the emergence of Java has led directly to new hardware sales. As evidence, officials point to the double-digit growth in server revenues since Sun started beating the Java drum in 1995.
“Java is an incredible door opener,” said Ed Zander, SMCC’s president. “A lot of times we walk in with a Java story and walk out with a data warehouse sale.”
That’s why Sun is positioning its servers and workstations as the ultimate Java platforms.
“We have designed the best Java thin-client servers on the planet,” said Bud Tribble, vice president and chief architect of Java systems at SMCC. “And if you want to run Java on the server, we have a more scalable implementation than anyone.”
To fuel workstation sales, which have flattened out in the face of NT’s encroachment into the workstation arena, Sun will promote its SPARCstations and Ultra workstations as the supreme platforms for developing Java applications.
Specifically, Sun is adding JIT (just-in-time) compilers and other software and hardware components to improve Java performance. In this regard, Sun’s not alone. Intel and IBM, for example, are working on Java compilers and accelerators for their respective Pentium and PowerPC processors.
Sun will also better compete on price, with plans to introduce a new line of SPARC-based “power desktops,” officials said.
Sun’s goal is to keep NT from eroding its dominant share of the Unix-based workstation market. The company had 41.5 percent of Unix workstations shipped worldwide in 1996, according to International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.
For the traditional desktop, Sun is turning its attention to thin clients in the form of its JavaStation. Read the rest of this entry »