New Sun group aims to stem Wall Street defections

Sun Microsystems Inc. has created a new group chartered with shoring up its business on Wall Street. Called the Capital Markets...

Sun Microsystems has created a new group to promote its business on Wall Street. Called the Capital Markets Group, it will be headed by Stuart Wells, who will report directly to Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz.

The group, expected eventually to have a staff of 20, was set up in June to promote Sun's Opteron-based servers and Solaris 10 operating system in the financial sector, said Wells, who was recently made senior vice-president of Wall Street Technologies at Sun.

Although Wall Street was critical in Sun's becoming the top Unix supplier in the late 1990s, it has cooled to Sun's technology in recent years as financial companies have turned to the Linux operating system on inexpensive servers based on the Intel x86 architecture.

"That's probably where they've taken the biggest black eye with regard to people moving to Linux," said Dion Cornett, an analyst with Decatur Jones Equity Partners, an equity research firm based in Chicago.

Sun's slowness to adopt low-cost x86 systems did not help the situation. "Between 2000 and 2002, many of Wall Street's big names fundamentally cut their spending," Wells said. "Red Hat was more popular because what the customers wanted was low-cost computing," he said.

The company is now attempting to make up for lost ground. Over the past nine months, Sun has begun a concerted effort to support Solaris x86, its operating system for the Intel architecture, on non-Sun hardware. Sun has announced it is now supporting Solaris x86 on 220 systems, including models from Sun rivals Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

Although Wells could not say how many of the financial sector's Solaris UltraSparc applications had been ported to Solaris x86, he said Sun is working with customers to develop 20 "proof of concept" financial applications that will run on the Solaris 10 operating system on x86 hardware. In total, Sun claims to have a total of 700 independent software vendors supporting Solaris on x86, including financial applications from Tibco Software. and Sungard Data Systems.

The Capital Markets group clearly has Red Hat in its sights. Sun has been promoting its Solaris operating system as a technically superior alternative to Linux, and Wells's group is now offering a select number of Wall Street customers full technical support for the Solaris 10 operating system, which is currently in beta.

Although Sun executives reported strength in the company's sales to the financial services sector during their most recent quarterly earnings call, Sun will have to work hard if it wants to turn the tide on Wall Street, Cornett said.  Financial users surveyed by Cornett's firm still have their doubts about the strength of Solaris's enterprise capabilities on Intel and Opteron systems.

"Clearly the perception out there is that Solaris x86 is a rather shabby implementation of the Solaris that they otherwise love on [UltraSparc]," he said.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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