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If I Were Jonathan Schwartz

Posted on Thursday, Apr 27th 2006

Amongst other things, I have, this week, triggered a process of premature aging. My youthful face and cute ponytail are to become a thing of distant memory, soon!

As I think through my new responsibilities, a series of questions breeze through my mind, with a subtle realization that if Scott can be removed, so can I. And much more quickly, mercilessly!

I start scribbling notes to myself :

SUN, like Apple, has made its mark as a vertically integrated computer company with proprietary computer hardware and operating system. However, like Apple, the importance of the computer business has become questionable. The significance of the OS is questionable. The relevance of the chip business is definitely questionable.

On the other hand, Apple used that diverse set of expertise – chips, hardware, industrial design, software, OS, Applications, the web – to conjure a completely new category of products which rescued them out of ensuing irrelevance.

Qs: What is my equivalent of the iPod?

What are SUN’s major assets? The brand, particularly the enterprise computing brand is perhaps the biggest at this point. But we are trying to leverage it in very traditional ways, mostly by selling servers and services around servers, while margins in that business keep shrinking. We need to get out of this commodity business, and find a related but non-commodity niche.

Qs: What is this niche? Can I load up the servers with unique software applications and invent Enterprise Software-As-A-Service Appliances as a new vertically integrated and optimized set of products? What do I need to acquire to create this business? Clearly, my current portfolio / strategy is not sufficient.

If I can answer these two pivotal questions, the rest is financial engineering and execution. Cut SPARC to begin with.
I really don’t want to grow old too soon. Nor do I want to be fired from this job. Rather, I would like to be remembered as the man who gave SUN back its glory …

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Interesting thought: transforming another former Silicon Valley high tech heavyweight into an Apple-like consumer brand. Schwartz certainly has the mind and creativity to take Sun in a radically different direction, but it’s unclear he’ll break from his mentor, Scott McNealy, who he clearly admires. While Apple did it, as a former manager of mine told me years ago, it’s hard for an old leopard to change its spots. I was an executive speechwriter there in 03-04, and wrote a short post about it.

mark ivey Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 3:05 PM PT

Mark, I would not abandon SUN’s enterprise business. While for Apple, the Enterprise was never the strong suite, for SUN it was and is, and I would make sure that factor is leveraged. Sramana

Sramana Mitra Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 4:37 PM PT

I agree. Shifting to a completely different market would be extremely costly and time consuming. Apple’s shift to consumer electronics was not a large stretch from personal computing and did not require too large a shift in sales channels.

Oddly enough, I think Google has made clear part of the answer for Sun. Google has shifted focus in scalable computing infrastructure from scaling single boxes to large arrays of cheap computers, with a focus on reduced power, cooling, and footprint. Google has been building their own hardware because nobody else is producing power efficient, scalable systems at a reasonable price. Actually, I think this may be why Andy Bechtolsheim returned to Sun.

My guess is that the other part of the answer for Sun would be to establish a standard infrastructure layer and core applications for the shift to mobile, service based, distributed storage computing. They already have the market focus on their Java platform in the cell phone space and the developing service oriented architecture.

Sophos Saturday, April 29, 2006 at 11:53 PM PT

[…] In light of all this, what is the conversation between Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Schwartz? Sun has some really sophisticated expertise in data center management and distributed computing. Perhaps, SUN’s return to glory would be in merging with Google, making McNealy’s dream come true by creating the first true challenge powerhouse against Microsoft that includes a credible Enterprise strategy? […]

Sramana Mitra on Strategy » Blog Archive » GoogleSun Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 4:01 PM PT