Larry Hambly, head of Sun's services group and a 19-year company veteran, will retire shortly, the company said.
Patricia Sueltz will replace him as executive vice-president of Enterprise Services. She is executive vice-president of Sun's Software Systems Group.
Sueltz will succeed Hambly from 1 July, although Hambly will continue working with Sueltz on the transition through the end of September. After the transition, Hambly will remain with Sun working on customer projects and employee mentoring for the rest of Sun's 2003 financial year, the company said.
Sueltz's successor as head of the Software Systems Group will be named by 1 July, Sun said.
The software group encompasses a wide range of initiatives at Sun, including Java, its iPlanet server products - which were recently rebranded as the Sun ONE products - and its StarOffice productivity suite.
Losing the head of that division at a time when Sun is expanding its role as a software provider is a blow for the company, according to Julie Grier, a vice-president with the research company Giga Information Group.
Sun is in the middle of a fierce battle with Microsoft to provide software for the emerging world of Web services, with Sun pushing Java and Microsoft promoting its .net technologies. That makes the timing of Seultz's departure "really poor", Grier said.
In addition, she noted, Microsoft is set to introduce in July a new, somewhat controversial licensing scheme that has upset some customers. While Sun should be capitalising on that opportunity to win new business from Microsoft, it will be distracted by Sueltz's departure, Grier said.
However, Sun, like other hardware makers, also needs to build up its service offerings to compensate for declining revenue from hardware sales, Grier said. Rivals such as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq already are working hard to expand their services offerings while IBM has built a commanding lead.
In addition to installation and maintenance services offered to its Solaris customers, Sun could be doing more to capitalise on opportunities in areas such as IT infrastructure design and systems integration, she said. Appointing a new head of services at Sun may reflect a recognition by the company that it needs to expand its service offerings.
Sun chief financial officer Michael Lehman and executive vice-president for Computer Systems John Shoemaker are also retiring in July.