Wednesday, November 26, 2008

TBray Response: Sun Should Stop Sucking

(Talking about Tim Bray's opinion on what Sun should do).

As someone who's used a lot of Sun's products, here's my response as to what you can do, but more importantly, what you probably actually will do.

Price Your Hardware Less
Let's look at the Niagara vs. x86
  • T5140 base (dual 4-core T2+ processors, 8GB of RAM, some disks) is $15k.
  • X4140 (dual 4-core Opteron processors, 8GB of RAM, lots more disks) is $5.6k.
  • X4150 (dual 4-core Xeon processors, 8GB of RAM, same disks as the X4140) is $7.3k.
Lemme get this straight, Tim: you think that the web application deployment crowd are willing to spend about 2-3 times the price for your magical CMT platform? Really? Have you met your typical hosting company? Or have you been spending so long at Sun you don't know what people actually care about?

Here's the thing: you actually make good hardware. The X4140? Great server. Your Niagara processors? Probably pretty good (never had a chance to play with one yet). Constellation? Great IB switch. The multithreaded 10GbE NICs? Pretty good hardware if you have an app that is multi-socket based. But people aren't going to run web applications on something that's more than twice the price; web applications are all about horizontal scaleout. Unless your hardware is 2x the performance for 2x the price, you're going to fail.

Quit Confusing Your Branding
We get it. You invented Java. Good on you. I like Java. That's not an excuse for:
  • Changing your stock ticker to JAVA.
  • Calling every single thing you can, even when it doesn't involve Java at all (Sun Java System Messaging Server, a product which contains precisely 0% Java)
  • Grouping completely unrelated products under completely confusing banners (Sun Java Communications Suite, Sun Java System Messaging Server, Sun Java System Application Platform; these are all on your web site as of right now).
When you come up with your next branding exercise, please stop rebranding every single thing you make into one big bag of branding Fail.

Solaris Will Never Beat Linux
Like it or not, Solaris will never beat Linux at this point. You had lots of opportunities to make this not be the case, and you failed. Mostly because of your own stupid decisions, but the simple fact is that at this point, Solaris will never beat Linux for anything other than specialized systems. These are:
  • Applications that require it because they were written once 10 years ago and can never change. Milk these guys for as much as you possibly can; it's the Computer Associates business plan and they seem to do okay out of it.
  • Storage appliances (CIFS integration and ZFS are good and better than the equivalents in Linux-land).
No matter what Tim says, Solaris will never defeat Linux in the general web application deployment space, and there is absolutely nothing you can ever do to change this. Give up. Give up now. You're way too far behind, you don't get those developers, and you'll never be able to catch up with the state of the world.

The thing is that one of the points that Tim raises, Solaris having such a stable ABI, actually causes them problems in general worldview and software engineering, because it means that they can never actually change anything to make it better. But more than that, it indicates that their core focus is really about all the legacy applications which are tied to their platform, and not about driving new customers to the platform.

What Sun Could Do
Divide yourself logically into the following divisions:
  • Legacy Systems. Sparc IV, Solaris, all the old software packages nobody uses, existing StorageTek hardware. Your job is to keep these customers from spending the effort to migrate to something cheaper; no more, no less.
  • Modern Hardware. Your x86 hardware, IB hardware, networking chipsets, Niagara. Your job is to do advanced development and be technologically advanced, but at least marginally cost competitive.
  • Open Storage. OpenSolaris, the new Open Storage hardware. Your job here is to provide a new path off all the storage dead ends that you've gone down, and try to eviscerate the big storage vendors who are insanely overpriced at this point.
  • Goodwill Software. All the stuff you're never really going to make proper money off of, and probably shouldn't have gotten involved in in the first place. MySQL, Java, Glassfish, NetBeans, StarOffice. Your job here is to try to stem the loss that all of these systems are costing you, and keep from allowing their marketing teams from ruining the rest of your branding on profitable products.
Note that there are two growth markets in there (Modern Hardware and Open Storage), and the rest is all irrelevant tangents and legacy. The growth markets are where your future lies, and keeping the others around gives you the chance to migrate existing customers to the new platform, keeping your vision of a one-stop-shop IBM killer intact. But you have to be completely honest with yourselves: the existing stuff is legacy and will never go anywhere, and you need to pile resources into the growth areas without confusing your branding or customers.

What Sun Will Do
Here's my predictions:
  • Sun will continue to price all their proprietary hardware so absolutely above the costs of generic hardware that only people under serious lockin to their platform even think about buying it, never allowing them to achieve any types of economy of scale.
  • Sun will continue to give software products stupid, confusing names. I predict the Sun Java System Enterprise Database Suite being the new name for MySQL.
  • Sun will continue to try to drive Solaris to everything through a neverending sequence of initiatives, confusing anybody even considering deploying it, so that you only ever hit the legacy market and Solaris die-hards.
  • Sun will continue to invest in stuff that will never ever drive any meaningful revenue to them, but sap massive amounts of engineering resources. To try to justify this to their shareholders, they will come up with confusing branding and marketing initiatives to try to tie everything together.
In short, Sun, I have no fear that you will find some way to drag failure from the claws of oh-so-close. Just like you have for years.
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