For Sun, Q-Layer is a Smart Buy

[qi:012] Sun Microsystems (s JAVA) has acquired Q-Layer, a Belgium-based infrastructure management company that has technology to automate the deployment and management of both public and private clouds, for an undisclosed amount of money. This is a smart tactical move, and Q-Layer also gives Sun some strategic assets in the long term. Here’s why.

What does Q-Layer bring to the table?
Q-Layer co-founders Kristof De Spiegeleer and Niko Nelissen are hosting and networking industry veterans. Over at Data Center Knowledge, Rich Miller points out that, at a very basic level, Q-Layer uses virtualization to offer up a virtual private data center. Q-Layer’s management and deployment capabilities make it comparable to Rightscale, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company that allows you to set up private environments on multiple clouds such as Amazon (s AMZN) and GoGrid clouds. 3Tera Technology also has similar offerings.

By buying Q-Layer, Sun is making a strong push into the emergent private cloud market. Many enterprises are still sitting on the fence and are hesitant to use public clouds like Amazon’s, although I think that opinion is going to change with the fiscal tightness in the economy. With Q-Layer, Sun will be able to virtualize, manage and deploy hardware inside corporate firewalls — and hence offer private clouds. Q-Layer also has deeper management capabilities than public clouds can currently offer, thereby making it more attractive to big companies.

Why is it a smart move?
Q-layer products bring business logic expertise to the table, which is as important as technology chops. Why? For instance, Q-Layer has a dashboard that allows you to mix-and-match backend providers, depending on cost, uptime and security level agreements. This allows corporations to work with public cloud offerings as well. Since Q-Layer works with hardware from many different vendors, that will make it easy for Sun to get in the door with these large enterprises.

However, Q-Layer is strategically important as well, because over time, Sun can integrate the offering to work better with its own hardware. By integrating Q-Layer’s dashboard with its own cloud-compatible hardware, Sun is hoping to position itself for success in the private cloud management market. Over the long term, the cloud management market is going to follow the dynamics of the storage management business. Sure, there are multiple offerings to manage heterogeneous storage environments, but vendors almost always build their own prettier, better management environment. Q-Layer’s management software and its interface will be a key differentiator for Sun.

Some Speculation: Sun has talked about clouds, but so far, had nothing to show for it. Its acquisition of Q-Layer may indicate that its internal efforts were not bearing fruit. Why? I don’t know. If you have details, drop me a line.

What could go wrong?
Sun is long on vision and short on execution. That is, unfortunately, an ongoing problem for the company, which has stocked up on some of the most brilliant engineering minds of our times. Sun also has a mixed record when it comes to software and applications.

So what is the silver lining?
Cloud computing could be Sun’s savior, and by getting it right, Sun could very well stage a comeback.