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Sun boss saddles up high horse

Sun Microsystems chairman and chief executive Scott McNealy defended his company's open-source track record in a raucous meeting with journalists last week.

McNealy, visiting customers in Canada, bristled when journalists suggested that Sun had been pressured into making its latest version of the Solaris operating system available to open-source developers.

"Pressure? It fascinates me how people think the world operates, that I'm some sort of politician running for office. There are absolute legal issues," said McNealy, pointing out that Sun had had to rid the OS of some proprietary code before open-sourcing it.

Next week Sun plans to unveil Solaris 10, the first instance of the OS available on an open-source basis. Solaris 10's dynamic tracing technology offers administrators a way to tweak the platform for maximum performance. Solaris 10 also has "containers" that isolate applications for further performance improvement, and a new TCP/IP stack that Sun says provides efficient communication processing.

McNealy said Solaris 10 was merely the latest in a long line of Sun contributions to the open-source crowd.

"We're the number one donator of code to the open-source community on the planet," he said. "To say that we need to be pressured! We invented open source! The number one donator of open-source code is Berkeley [University of California]. Know where all that came from? [Former Sun chief scientist] Bill Joy, who invented open source while at Berkeley with the BSD licence. We were the Red Hat of Berkeley Unix before Linus Torvalds was out of diapers."

McNealy then took IBM to task for high OS operating costs. He said Sun could offer Solaris 10 at a cost of $1 (54p) per CPU, per hour.

"IBM has 300,000 employees and they're hiring more," McNealy said, explaining why he thinks Big Blue can't match Sun. "Where's their dollar per CPU-hour? They can't do it, because they're at more than a dollar per CPU-hour just in pension costs."

McNealy said Sun would offer Solaris containers in an application service provider model, serving up the OS packages via a data centre, and with enterprises accessing the containers online.

The data centre is an "N1" environment - Sun's server load-balancing and virtualisation model for improving server utilisation rates. Industry analysts have said most servers operate at just 15% of their capacity. Servers in an N1 environment can achieve 80%, according to Sun.

McNealy said the ASP Solaris model was temporary, a way to "irritate the market" in the hopes of convincing service providers to create their own N1 data centres and serve up Solaris containers.

Sun's goal was to become less of a front-line tech provider and more of a background operator, McNealy said. "Nobody chooses Lucent or Nortel or Alcatel as their switch environment. They just sign up. They don't know what's on the back-end."

In April Sun recorded a $760m loss for the third quarter of 2004 and laid off 3,500 employees. The company ousted Neil Knox, the executive vice-president of low-end servers, Clark Masters, executive vice-president of high-end servers, and Mark Tolliver, chief strategy and marketing officer.

Things got better in the next quarter with Sun landing $795m in the black, but last month the company recorded a $174m loss for the following quarter.

McNealy put a positive spin on the most recent numbers, pointing out that Sun had $7.4bn in the bank, and that the October figure would have been profitable if not for unusual charges, such as $92m to settle a lawsuit with Eastman Kodak.

"The company's doing great - growing the last couple of quarters, the last two in a row," McNealy said. "That feels really good. It's been a while since I've been able to say that. Revenue growth does solve problems a lot easier than trying to cost-cut your way."

Stefan Dubowski writes for IDG News Service


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