Missing at CES: Sun Micro


It is the must attend party of the year – I mean the CES gadgets show. Everyone is going to be in Las Vegas this month, but for two companies – Apple and Sun Microsystems. Given that Jobs & Co. are having their own fiesta, there is only company which is missing in action – Sun Microsystems. Despite Java and having some of the best servers in the business, Sun has little or no presence in the consumer electronics world. The company has no “convergence” play, though one can say its servers are used by cable and telecom companies for all sorts of high end applications.

Why do I bring up Sun? Well recently Sun scrapped its Cobalt line of products, the original devices that started the appliance server revolution. The pizza-box sized servers in their trademark cobalt blue color, changed the way we thought about servers. They featured storage automation, email, websurfing, caching and all sorts of cool stuff. The stuff which you find in newer more recent products such as the Mirra back-up server. Cobalt line of products would have been an ideal launch pad for Sun in the consumer space. At worst, Sun could have spun out the company again and hoped to recover some of the $2 billion it spent on acquiring Cobalt.

I talked to some smart people who are close to Sun and they agreed. Many blame the inward looking culture of Sun for this decision to put Cobalt to the pasture. (And this is despite all the outward appearance of kowtowing to the Linux nation!) It’s a shame that Sun was not able to build on Cobalt’s success in the appliance space, a person once close to Sun said. In his opinion, Sun’s SPARC/Solaris religion, inwardly focused culture and NIH (not invented here) syndrome makes it hard for Sun to embrace external ideas.

bq. “I have a lot of friends/colleagues there and there are lots of bright people at Sun… In most place when you get bright people in a room the collective intelligence goes up, but not so at Sun and I can’t figure out why!!”

Nevertheless, many believe that open sourcing Cobalt’s product line is a good idea and it is rumored that it took a lot of convincing from the ex-Cobalt team members. The Cobalt line was built on an open source foundation and at least now it’s able to give back to the community a great framework/GUI to develop appliances in the open source community. Actually there are many companies and individuals who are planning to offer appliances built on the Cobalt framework. Cobalt software can be extended into say devices like personal media gateways, home/personal servers, and back-up devices.

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