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Sun shouts at analysts with customer wins

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A command has come down from somewhere near the top of Sun Microsystems to answer critics with a "momentum showing."

It's common knowledge that Sun has passed into another one of its whipping boy cycles. The company seems to manage to keep critics at bay for three quarters or so and then - boom - a series of bad news hits, and the end of the world clan makes its appearance. This quarter's shockers came in the form of a $1 billion charge, a fourth quarter loss and now speculation that Sun may be trying to offload costs by teaming with Fujitsu on high-end servers.

Sun will sometimes shrug off the demeaning analyst reports and hard-hitting Wall Street Journal cover stories. The doom and gloom stuff does get a bit repetitive. The latest lashings, however, have captured the attention of someone at Sun. That much is clear from a quick look over the company's latest statements.

One week after announcing it's disappointing fourth quarter results, Sun issued a statement titled "Sun announces hundreds of customer wins secured in the last 90 days."

The body of the text highlighted some pretty impressive wins - China Ministry of Railways, Federal Aviation Administration, Motorola, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, Swedbank and several others. The deal descriptions covered a lot of ground from Solaris on Sparc, to Solaris on Intel and storage sales.

Four days later, another deal popped up with Reuters. The next day Sun announced a win with Sportsman's Warehouse and Benetton Group. This was followed by five storage wins at Blue Shield, EPL, Howrey, Lodgian and Trader Publishing.

Some of you would be amazed to know the lengths a vendor must go to issue a customer win. It's an intricate process that involves PR mavens cooperating with marketing gurus, head honchos peeking over shoulders and then final sign-offs from the legal staff. The multi-step ordeal has been known to bring people to tears. All of this means that some serious work went on in the bowels of Sun to rush these customer wins out the door.

At the most basic level, Sun is trying demonstrate that it has momentum while the world around it insists the company has stalled. Few of the customer wins point to large systems such as the Sun Fire 15k. Instead, they cover a diverse set of products.

This is an important shift for the company.

Sun, more than any of its direct competitors, is tied to the success of the server market. Severs make up just a fraction of IBM's vast business, HP makes most of its cash off printers, and Dell is the PC leader.

This means that Sun must show that it's sales run the entire gamut of the server market from low-end to high-end kit, if it wants to prove overall health.

Sun could once afford to rely on high-end deals for the bulk of its big wins, but those days have passed. Sun's best bet now is to focus in on the diversity it needs lower down the server scale. Sun's multicore processor strategy is one of the company's best gambles moving forward and should provide a huge boost to 8-way and below boxes.

Sun is already trying to paint a picture that fits in with this reality. It has countered criticism by touting customers of all shapes and sizes buying equally different sets of products.

But while the barrage of deals looks nice on paper, Sun will again be judged by its bottom line. When the next quarter closes, everyone will be looking to see whether Sun has made it into the black.

Without a return to profitability, the customer wins will look like fluff. ®

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