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Sun Looks Beyond The SOA Here And Now

Sun Microsystems (Quote, Chart) officials made a great effort to convince skeptics how its offer to acquire SeeBeyond isn’t a hole filler but rather an extension of Sun’s evolving strategy to reap more revenues from software.

Sun’s sketchy record with software acquisitions isn’t going to stop the company intent on consolidating the industry, expanding into new verticals and growing.

On a conference call Tuesday announcing the deal, Scott McNealy, Sun chairman and CEO, said that by combining SeeBeyond’s composite application platform with its Java Enterprise System, Sun will be able to offer customers total software integration in one fell swoop.

Customers have grown weary of the so-called best-of-breed approach of mixing and matching systems, operating systems middleware and integration partners, he said. They want complete integration under one shop, or a service-level agreement .

Ultimately, this will help Sun’s long-term goal of having the network serve as the computer, which is now centered on facilitating Java-based Web services under a service oriented architecture (SOA) model for distributed computing.

“It’s our commitment to capitalize on our key franchises and opportunities over the next 10 years to monetize the market that has been created for Java Web services,” McNealy said.

ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg said that while Sun and SeeBeyond have complementary product lines and similar philosophies with respect to Java, Sun has a spotty track record for acquisitions.

Moreover, he said, SeeBeyond’s market for tightly coupled, single-platform enterprise application integration is disappearing.

“Both firms centered their SOA efforts on Java’s write once, run anywhere portability value proposition, which is fundamentally at odds with SOA interoperability centric value proposition,” he said.

“The combination of the two companies, therefore, is shaping up as a ‘dumb and dumber’ approach to SOA, as competing vendors like BEA and Sonic Software hammer out solutions that better address the agility and heterogeneity needs of today’s enterprises.”

Redmonk analyst James Governor isn’t so sure.

While he allowed that it is fair to question Sun’s software acquisition record, he said Sun is much more oriented as a software company than it used to be. One thing SeeBeyond will offer is a real sales force that knows how to sell software, which is something the Santa Clara, Calif., couldn’t boast about.

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun president and COO, echoed that notion in explaining on the call his pursuit of the deal, which occurred this week in the wee hours of the morning before the second day of JavaOne kicked off in San Francisco.

“I think what’s very obvious to us and very evident at JavaOne is that software is certainly the leading edge of large-scale revenue opportunities going forward,” Schwartz said.

For Sun to fully participate in that market place, he said Sun has to have a very strong sales team to push not only integration software, but applications for identity management and security.

Once customers have those components in place, they can deploy large-scale grids and storage grids driven by software, Schwartz said.

Forrester Research analyst Mike Gilpin looked at the deal from another angle.

He said there are inherent challenges in Sun’s J2EE-centric approach in working toward fuller interoperability and engagement with Microsoft, noting that Sun and SeeBeyond have been pushing the idea that Java Business Integration (JBI) will form the core of their strategy around SOA.

“I agree that it has some potential in this direction, but the lack of industry backing from IBM, Microsoft and BEA limits this potential. I think Sun (and the other JBI backers) need to broaden the conversation with Microsoft to something called “WS-BI,” [Web Services Business Integration], which would be like JBI but not Java-centric.”

Even without these problems being solved, Gilpin said the acquisition gives Sun something worth having: a third leg to the application-platform stool (the other two being app server and portal), that will help customers build composite applications.

With all this talk about software, it’s increasingly clear Sun’s positioning is a bit different these days. While in the past, McNealy and Co. might hawk super servers, workstations and Sparc architectures, Solaris, JES and newly acquired software from vendors like Tarantella, Procom and now SeeBeyond seem to be taking up Sun’s time.

McNealy assured that those important products aren’t going away. They will just no longer be the central focus, as Sun boosts its messaging and actions to enable and support SOAs.

“We think JES, SeeBeyond, Solaris 10, our new chip multithreading multiprocessors, our thin clients are all interesting opportunities,” he said. “And on top of StorageTek, Tarantella and Procom NAS assets, we are assembling all of the pieces in a very integrated and supportable way to go monetize the position we’ve built here in the first 23, 24 years of Sun’s existence,” McNealy said.

McNealy and Schwartz also reiterated that Sun’s deal-making is not done, though they wouldn’t hint at who or what Sun might acquire next. On that score, Sun will continue to keep everyone in the dark until the next surprise.

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