The proposed merger between IBM and Sun Microsystems, as first reported last week by the Wall Street Journal, may well fizzle out before the buzz dies down -- but let's hope not. Nobody wants to see Sun's technologies disappear, and of all the possible endgames for the company's years-long decline, a merger with IBM is about the best we could hope for.
If the deal goes through, Sun gains Big Blue's powerful sales force, filling the most obvious gap in its expertise of late: the ability to part customers with their money. What's more, given the considerable overlap between the two companies' customer bases, a merger with IBM would ensure that the bulk of Sun's technology portfolio would remain under one roof.
[ For more on the rumored IBM-Sun merger, see InfoWorld's special report. ]
But IBM stands to benefit, too. The most interesting part of this deal is not what it will mean for any specific Sun products or technologies, but how it could reshape the competitive landscape of the IT market. Not only would acquiring Sun deal solid blows to several of IBM's key rivals -- including EMC, HP, and Oracle -- but it could also leave IBM as the leading supplier of tools and technology for enterprise software developers, hands down.
The new king of Java
From IBM's perspective, the crown jewel of Sun's technology portfolio must surely be Java. Big Blue has made massive investments in Java over the years, and it markets the technology aggressively on every hardware platform it sells, from desktop to mainframe.
Acquiring Sun would make IBM the clear leader in Java technology, as it would become the caretaker of the open source reference implementation of the JRE (Java Runtime Environment). It would also gain GlassFish, Sun's open source reference implementation of Java EE. At Sun, these are top-line products. At IBM, however, they would likely become entry-level offerings -- gateways to IBM's WebSphere product stack.
From a competitive standpoint, this would be a great move for IBM. For starters, it would allow Big Blue to compete more effectively with Red Hat, whose JBoss application server is often seen as a low-cost, open source alternative to proprietary Java EE stacks, including WebSphere. More importantly, if the team that invented Java were to find a new home at IBM, it would draw considerable attention away from Oracle, whose own acquisition of BEA in 2007 was seen as a strong bid for the top spot in the Java market.