Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sun's Shave A Little Too Close?

Trolling the Net today, I came across an interesting strategy description from Sun Microsystems honcho Scott McNealy. Seems McNealy is employing one of the oldest marketing analogies on the books. He told Business Week that in terms of Sun's server strategy going forward, Sun's software -- more of which became free last week -- is the razor, while servers are the blades (no pun intended, I would guess).
If he's right, Sun would be in fine shape a year or two from now. Sun's software "strategy" is more of a necessary response to the vast migration off Solaris and other competing proprietary platforms and onto Windows and Linux; the company concluded that the best way of keeping Solaris viable and interesting to server customers was to give much of it away. That much has worked, with millions of OpenSolaris downloads; the company added in Xen virtualization server code and now it's chasing it with free versions of its middleware, systems management and Java development tools.

But it's got to sell something, and McNealy has determined that that something will be hardware -- its current server lines and the upcoming Niagara line, which starts at eight cores. So, software cheap, servers high-margin. Sound like a company strategy we've seen before? Yep, it looks just like the model for Sun's neighbor Apple...and all that has ever gotten Apple is a cutting-edge user base and about 5% of the desktop market in its very best years.

If McNealy wants to convince thousands of you enterprise customers to buy his servers and grow Sun's market share, I think he's going to need to do a little more than that. Linux on commodity servers is too developed of a threat now, and that's not even counting the vast market share lead that Windows Server 2003 holds. Niagara servers are going to have to show some serious performance boosts over commodity boxes and direct competitors such as IBM, and he's going to have to make that case strongly. It's easy enough to say you're selling razors and blades, but what about customers with beards?