Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field

Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Microsystems Inc.

Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Microsystems Inc.

Rick Steele

Jonathan Schwartz won't disappoint if you expect to hear some of Sun Microsystems' tried-and-true expressions when he talks. Words and phrases such as "ubiquity" and "the network is the computer" infuse his speech.

The long-time Sun employee is a true believer that the company will bounce back from hard times and start making money again, and that Solaris, the Palo Alto, Calif., company's operating system, is a viable alternative to Windows and Linux. Schwartz recently met with reporters from the Washington Post, Government Computer News and Washington Technology's senior editor Nick Wakeman.

WT: Where is capital investment headed?

Schwartz: That really depends. There will be more technology bought for people to carry around in their hands this year than ever before. So network operators will see an upsurge of demand around broadband services. For the enterprise, Sarbanes Oxley [Act of 2002] is a driver. If you are going to sign that attestation, you need controls. Some relate to archiving information, which is good for the storage industry. Some relate to managing identities, and that requires more computing power and infrastructure.

WT: But businesses are still reluctant to invest in IT.

Schwartz: It depends. Verizon [Communications Inc.] is doing an awful lot of upgrading. Is Bob's Flower Shop? No, but there is a lot of IT that was built for Bob that never should have been built.

To suggest that the overall demand for IT is waning is missing that the demand for IT is increasing, but the price tag may not be going up, because we are finding more efficient models of delivery.

We've spent a lot of time with financial services companies and oil and gas companies, and we've noticed a number of them are building grids. So we decided to build a multithousand CPU grid. We sell it for $1 a CPU hour, a transparent price that looks a lot like an electrical utility.

There has been an overwhelmingly positive response from CIOs who are saying if I can use Sun's capital, Sun's infrastructure and pay for it truly on demand, then why not go down that path?

WT: What does that get the customer?

Schwartz: You get an operating system running on a CPU. We own a competitive advantage with Solaris, because we have been focusing on network security, partition and utilization, scalability. We run the largest systems in the world. There will be no seat license. You just pay a buck an hour.

WT: What about applications?

Schwartz: You can store the apps and send them to the grid. You can store them in the grid. The point is the grid is available, and you choose how to use it. It's like the power company. The power company isn't interested in what you plug in.

WT: But it is different than the power company.

Schwartz: Yes and no. When Google runs a search, do they care what you are searching for? You have adapted how you search. You have changed how you run your business to adapt to the economics of a service provider model, just as in the electricity model.

WT: How are you selling this concept to government systems integrators?

Schwartz: Whether you are the warfighter or the postman or the flower delivery man, you are going to be a network client and have access to a diversity of network clients. The imperatives driving innovation, security, new process models and business models are just as appealing to the government as they are to the commercial sector.

Government is an industry of industries. We talk about [radio frequency identification] to the retail customer. Then you talk to the government, and they have PXs, and they have to worry about logistics and supply chain issues as well. The messages are quite similar.

WT: Can you describe the changes Sun has gone through?

Schwartz: We elected to do the same as we did in 1993, which is redouble our efforts on Solaris. Rather than [toss] that away to pick up a Red Hat product, we've moved our operating system to volume platforms. [Solaris now runs on X86 chips, not just Sun's Sparc chip.] Now there are only three operating systems to pick from: Windows, the most dominant, Red Hat and Solaris. The good news is Sun owns one of them. The bad news is Dell doesn't own one, HP doesn't own one, and IBM doesn't own one.

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