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IBM 'in talks' to buy Sun Microsystems

Schwartz dives for cover in Big Blue

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Solaris - Sun's version of Unix - is in terms of uptake a massive Sun success, with both HP and IBM supporting Solaris on their x86 servers. It is more popular than IBM's own Unix version, AIX, and there would the opportunity to merge the two - SolarAIX anybody? - and save development and support costs. How IBM would deal with the open sourcing of Solaris compared to AIX is problematical. It may be that it would end up following Sun's lead and open-sourcing a merged Solaris-AIX product.

There are also IBM's Linux activities to bring into the equation, but open source Linux and open source Solaris are not that far apart to create any insuperable difficulties, and an acquisition could considerably strengthen IBM's open source credentials.

In storage Sun would bring its Storage Tek mainframe tape business offering IBM an immediate consolidation opportunity, making it a virtual monopolist in the supply of tape formats and libraries to mainframe customers. The StorageTek disk array line would overlap with IBM's own DS4000, 5000, 6000 and 8000 array products and require some heavy migration work to remove overlaps and cut development and support costs.

IBM is not doing too well with its disk storage arrays, and a StorageTek array line and customer base infusion could be a good idea. There is scope for consolidation of the two companies' deduplication efforts, with IBM's Diligent line probably emerging triumphant and Sun's deduplication supplier FalconStor losing out.

Sun also has its Open Storage 7000 products with no RAID controllers and a comprehensive and sophisticated software storage stack, including its ZFS file software, running in a server. This is intended to undercut proprietary storage arrays, like IBM's DSX000 line and Sun's own StorageTek arrays and IBM may decide that its a storage revenue deconstruction exercise it doesn't want to pursue.

On the other hand it may conclude that undercutting EMC, NetApp and other proprietary storage array revenues with an Open Storage strategy could reap benefits, particularly with EMC, via VMWare, being so close to new server rival Cisco. Hacking away at EMC revenues could be an agreeable prospect for IBM strategic planners.

Software

The same would be true for Sun's upcoming Open Networking line where Sun is similarly intent on using software and commodity hardware to undercut and out-innovate proprietary switches and routers. That would be a potentially attractive way for IBM to get back into the networking business and chip away at Cisco. Sun's existing networking gear is not competing with any existing IBM products, and represents an expansion for its product range.

Sun will bring a very large open source product line to IBM indeed, with the crown jewels in terms of popularity being MySQL and Java. IBM has its own DB2 product line and MySQL would compete with that - although one would think Big Blue's marketeers could separate the two fairly easily. MySQL might be targeted at SQL, for example. Big Blue might also make better revenue-generating use of Java.

The future of Open Office is possibly good under an IBM stewardship as it gives Armonk the opportunity to take on Redmond in desktop software - the gut appeal is instant.

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