Why Cisco, Not IBM, Should Buy Sun

With IBM (s ibm) rumored to have made a $6.5 billion buyout offer for Sun Microsystems (s java), it appears the company that coined the phrase “The Network is the Computer” is in play. But no one should allow IBM to walk away with Sun — which is still rich with talent, technology and engineering chops — at that price. All IBM would do is sell it off in pieces and keep a few jewels for itself, essentially eliminating a competitor. Everything else is codeine-influenced pillow talk.

I firmly believe Sun is a great engineering resource. The problem would be running the place, as anyone who bought it would be taking on a serious management challenge. Still, I can name a few potential suitors — Hewlett Packard (s hpq), Dell (s dell), Juniper Networks (s jnpr) or Hitachi (s hit), or even private equity guys (led by former Sun co-founders) — that would be up to the challenge. Damn, if I had the money, even I would try to buy it.

But no one is better equipped to buy and manage Sun than Cisco Systems (s CSCO). Despite its bold entry into “unified computing” with the launch of a new line of blade servers, Cisco is a newbie in the field and its product line so far is limited. Sun has a vast array of products, not to mention significant software resources (MySQL) for Cisco’s vision of unified and cloud computing and the sales channels and existing customers to help execute it. (IBM has all those things already, and it can pick up new customers via Sun.) More importantly, it has engineers — the very people Cisco values most and historically a strong factor in the networking giant’s acquisition decisions.

[polldaddy poll=1466155]

While Cisco also has a deep bench of folks who could run Sun, I would want them to bring back Mike Volpi and put him in charge of the task. He worked well with the Cisco executive structure, and he has a scrappy attitude and a relentless focus on sales. I can’t think of a better reason for John Chambers to bring back Cisco’s “prodigal son.”