Sun Links Open Source Strategy To Cloud Computing

CEO Schwartz revealed Sun's plans to convert its open source downloaders to paying customers of its cloud services.

Charles Babcock

March 25, 2009

3 Min Read
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Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz said the vast attempt to seed future developers with free, open source Sun software will pay dividends as the company launches its cloud computing initiative.

"Where is the money?" Schwartz asked rhetorically before the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco, a question that seemed particularly relevant at a time when Sun has reported narrow break-even quarters or losses on its 4-year-old open source gambit.

"Our cloud services will be available for a fee, not free," he answered. And students, independent developers, and startup businesses that like to download Sun open source code are prime candidates to use low-cost, pay-as-you-go services in the cloud. If they don't use commercial software, chances are they don't have a data center to host their code writing efforts.

Sun has only recently talked about the computing services and storage that it will make available in a cloud running in Sun's data centers. Schwartz's address to the open source conference is the first time he's made public Sun's plans to try to connect open source downloaders to cloud services. As the owner of the OpenOffice desktop productivity suite, MySQL database, and GlassFish Java application server, Sun is generating millions of downloads a week of its software. But only a small fraction convert into subscribers and purchasers of technical support.

Matt Aslett, analyst with the 451 Group, estimated last year that Sun converted one out of every 1,000 installers of MySQL into a paying customer.

Schwartz said Sun is seeing 200,000 "registered" downloads a day across its product line, giving it information on 200,000 "assets," or potential customers further down the road. Through the registration process, Sun learns who and where its downloaders are and what they're interested in. "We're reaching the entire planet through free open source code," and "free," Schwartz added, "works really well in a downturn."Cloud services are already estimated to be a $40 billion business this year. Schwartz didn't cite a source for the estimate and said he didn't care whether the actual figure was $20 billion or $80 billion. "There is indisputably a network of clouds in every business' future," he said, and Sun was seeding the clouds with its open source software and tools. Sun will be able to offer customers the option of creating an internal cloud that is a close match to Sun's external cloud.

"Microsoft's cloud services, Azure, will not be available on customer's premises," he said. Microsoft officials have stated that customers will come to its cloud to consume services found there.

Sun's cloud will be based on standards and open source software, and it will publish the APIs that allow users to duplicate the services on their own premises under the Creative Commons license, Schwartz said.

He acknowledged that Sun is not the only party with a plan to converge resources in the cloud. He said "a large networking company" (Cisco) recently announced converged enterprise networking and storage channels on a new blade server. Sun also produces blades, and in a subtle swipe, Schwartz said it's easier to make a blade computer into a router "than a router into a [general purpose] computer." Before announcing its own blade, Cisco was known for producing networking gear, primarily routers and switches.

At no point in his speech did Schwartz confirm or deny that Sun has been in negotiations to be acquired by IBM. Speculation has been high that the two companies may reach an accord, after The Wall Street Journal reported March 18 that IBM was seeking to acquire Sun. Schwartz didn't mention IBM by name anywhere in his talk.

In introducing Schwartz, conference chairman Matt Asay said Sun "did proprietary [product strategy] really well" in the dot-com boom and was now "doing open source [product strategy] really well in the downturn."

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