Snorkel is the clever name Miko Matsumura has given the proposed combination of Sun and Oracle. I blogged my first impressions about this deal when it was announced on April 20.
My biggest concern was, and still is, the culture clash between Oracle’s execs and sales force and Sun’s and its customers’ vision. After reading through the mostly vituperative discussions on the Oracle developer forums and the Java forums, and stimulating a spirited dialog among my own circle of IT architects: Patty’s Pioneers, I am even more concerned about this merger than before. For three reasons:
1. I actually love Sun’s vision (at least as articulated by their CEO, Jonathan Schwartz) of the future of computing. I believe it’s pretty accurate.
2. I believe that Sun is more in synch with its customers’ self image and goals than most companies are.
3. Although Sun and Oracle have many customers in common, Oracle has a much more adversarial relationship with its customers. This does not bode well.
Jonathan Schwartz’s Vision
The IBM deal was apparently Jonathan’s deal. The Oracle deal was presumably Scott McNealy’s deal. Jonathan did a good job of articulating and selling Sun’s vision in a series of blog posts on Sun's Strategy in March. In fact, these posts are so compelling, that they may have been part of what “sold” Sun to its suitors. What has always interested me about Jonathan Schwartz is that he is the “uber-geek” that most of Sun’s customers aspire to be. Making him CEO, rather than simply CTO, was a tremendous risk for Sun. He may not have done as good a job at running the company as he has done in articulating the company’s vision. But it’s a vision that rings true and which probably aligns with that of most of Sun’s customers.
In a nutshell, he seems to be saying: Our customers are developers and deployers of serious systems. We entice them with free, open software and tools they can use to design serious software. [We buy the precious attention of smart developers by providing them with great tools.] When they’re ready to deploy that software, they need serious, scalable, robust environments and support. [Sun charges for commercial quality software, service, and hardware, all of which you need when you deploy for real.] That’s where we make our money. Because we have lots of software tools that developers all over the world love (Java, MySql, OpenSolaris, Glassfish, NetBeans, ZFS, etc.), millions of developers all over the world download and use our tools. By seeing what they download, we can tell how serious they are. This gives us an amazing pipeline of leads that we actually don’t have the wherewithal to pursue. [Hint: if someone had a bigger sales force, they could convert many more of these leads].
We have hardware and software (O/S and middleware) that performs well and is well-loved and appreciated in the server market. We can use these standard servers and our open APIs to compete and win against proprietary players in the networking (Cisco) and storage (EMC) markets. This is a $160 billion market. [You need standard, not proprietary hardware, AND standard software.]
For the millions of downloaders of free software and tools who will not be building data centers, deploying enterprise software, or running supercomputers, we have SunCloud. They can deploy their software in the cloud and pay as they use the compute cycles. For our customers who have large data center deployments, they can also have virtual data centers in the cloud, with Sun’s great engineering to keep them high performing and secure.
That’s what Oracle thinks it is now buying. Unfortunately, many of the customers won’t come along for the ride.
Sun’s Customers’ Self-Image
Sun’s customers are IT architects, developers, and deployers of commercial and enterprise software. They are very smart, quite opinionated, and have an engineering mindset. They believe in simplicity, good design, performance, and robustness. They are strong proponents of open software. They like business models that make sense (are fair) and that don’t have a lot of friction (heavy negotiation) associated with them. Sun’s customers like Java, open source software, and a business model the lets them evaluate and use tools for free that save them time as they’re designing enterprise or commercial applications. When they’re ready to deploy that software, in a Data Center or in a cloud, they want high performance, robustness, and, again, open standards.
Oracle’s Image with Customers
Oracle’s software products are fine. As are the brands that Oracle has purchased (Peoplesoft, Siebel, et al). That’s not the problem. The problem is that the Java community and the open source community see Oracle as a nasty, proprietary, predatory player. They don’t like Oracle’s heavy-handed selling, and they don’t trust Oracle’s stewardship of open source components. They expect Oracle to jettison Sun’s hardware or to sell it off to HP.
Can Oracle Maintain the Java Customer Franchise?
You can buy the code, but you can’t buy the customer franchise. Java is a strong brand. Note that Sun’s stock symbol is JAVA. It’s not just the programming language that developers care about. It’s the spirit and the community and the practices that have grown up around Java. The deployment execs who trust Sun’s hardware also trust the robustness of the code their developers create. One CIO of a financial services firm summed up the negativity floating around in this way:
“SUN was a partner and had a lock on our enterprise servers. Oracle is an adversary with predatory pricing that you had to use. Will never buy another SUN box. Java strategy now in question.”
That pretty much says it all!