Sun believes Fujitsu deal will keep Sparc aflame

Analysts have lauded as pragmatic Sun Microsystems' announcement this week that it is teaming with Fujitsu to develop and...

Analysts have lauded as pragmatic Sun Microsystems' announcement this week that it is teaming with Fujitsu to develop and distribute its next generation of Sparc-based servers, due out in mid-2006.

It will allow the company to pare costs and throw more weight behind its "throughput computing" drive while keeping the Sparc torch aflame, they say.

While Sun's latest deal is being widely seen as good for business, Elie Simon, Sun's president in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), claims it will ultimately benefit customers, who will gain added system performance and lower costs if Sun's throughput computing strategy pays off.

In an interview Simon spoke about how the Fujitsu deal will affect not only Sun but its customers, what the deal means in EMEA and how the company's next headline-grabbing move may not be a partnership, but an acquisition.

Sun looks set to benefit from this deal by leveraging the combined strength of Sun and Fujitsu's development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Will you pass the potential cost savings down to customers?

Elie Simon: Yes, we will certainly be more competitive. We are sharing the cost of developing these products and that will affect both companies as well as end-user pricing. It will also enable Sun to really focus on throughput computing and supercomputing, which will clearly benefit customers, offering them products with a 30-times performance gain on data-facing applications.

Also, we are saving a significant amount of time. Originally, we planned to have these new throughput computing products out in three to five years, now it's mid-2006, at the same time as the "Advanced Product Line" (the code name for the Sparc-based product line being jointly developed by Sun and Fujitsu).

The chip business is now a three-horse race: there's Sparc, x86 architecture with Intel and AMD and IBM's Power microprocessors. I think all the rest will disappear. In operating systems it's the same. There's Microsoft, Linux, from Red Hat Inc. and SuSe, and Solaris. So when you invest in a partnership, you not only accelerate your development time frame, you also accelerate how fast the others disappear.

Is there concern about competition between Fujitsu and Sun's branded "Advanced Product Lines", given that you are working so closely together to develop them?

Simon: They will always compete, it's a free market. What makes a difference in the customer's mind is how they benefit from the technology and that comes from their relationship with the ISVs and knowledge partners in the market. At the end of the day what we really want to do is build industry expertise and the customer will make their choice based on the fact that we know their industry, we've invested in ISVs and integrators.

Until the rollout of the jointly developed Sparc-based servers, both companies will be distributing the existing Sun Fire and PrimePower product lines. How will this effect your distribution in Europe?

Simon: Fujitsu's brand and presence is quite high in Europe, especially when you take into consideration its service organizations. When you put that with Sun's it will be one of the strongest forces in Europe. Our strengths are complementary - Fujitsu is very strong in Germany, for example, while we have strong marketshare in the UK.

And EMEA is a bright spot in Sun's business right now. Last quarter EMEA accounted for 37% of Sun's revenue, up from 30% a year and a half ago.

How long will it take before both companies are selling the Sun Fire and PrimePower products?

Simon: It will come to fruition in the next few weeks.

You've recently adopted AMD's Opteron processors for low-end servers, settled your long-standing dispute with Microsoft and now you've strengthened your partnership with Fujitsu. What do these partnerships say about how the market has changed from, say, five years ago?

Simon: Five years ago it was a time for war. Today it is a time for peace. We are responding to customer demand. On the x86 side, we didn't think a partnership with Intel was appropriate but the adoption of AMD was. The settlement with Microsoft comes from a need to break down the interoperability barrier. Now, with Fujitsu, it's obvious that we are accelerating the launch of our new chips and servers. We like to say that we are the most partnered company on the planet, and we always have been.

Who's your next big partner?

Simon: I believe that we will be more acquisitive than we have been before.

Who would you like to buy?

Simon: Anyone who could accelerate out deployment of grid products. We are quite advanced with N1 (Sun's network computing technology), but we need to turn this grid into commercial applications.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Server hardware