IBM and Sun: What took them so long?

Nobody is in a better position than IBM to come to the rescue and to keep Sun's technology relevant

If today's reports that IBM is in talks to acquire Sun Microsystems are accurate and the acquisition eventually takes place, the question that the union will beg is this: What on earth took them so long?

It's difficult to think of any potential merger that's been speculated about for so long or that's so widely seen as a marriage that's been screaming to be consummated. For years, IBM has been such a fanboy of Java that those new to the scene could be forgiven for assuming it's an IBM creation. Both companies have long been doing everything in their power to shift any resources they can to Linux, making IBM's AIX and Sun's Solaris partners in near obsolescence. Replace "Linux," "AIX" and "Solaris" with "Intel/AMD," "PowerPC" and "Sparc," and the same statement is true on the hardware side.

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"Sunsetting" -- the act of retiring Sun systems in the datacenter -- has become a standard item on corporate to-do lists as IT executives cut costs through consolidation, virtualization, and migration to Linux. So the viability of Sun's continued existence as an independent company has long been such an open question that it's difficult to imagine Sun's top brass hasn't been working for some time on a survival strategy that involves an outside rescuer.

And nobody is in a better position than IBM to come to the rescue and to keep Sun's technology relevant.

For IBM, what makes this the right time to finally cut a deal is recognition of the need to accelerate its cloud computing efforts. The Sun Storage Cloud and Sun Compute Cloud, announced just today, are the first offerings under an impressive R&D effort it calls the Sun Open Cloud Platform. The combined effort will be formidable and will no doubt make cloud computing a less dangerous strategy for large enterprises.

When I wrote my annual list of things that won't happen in our 2009 Forecast issue, I began the list with this prediction: "CA will not acquire Sun Microsystems." The reason it won't, I wrote, is that "it would be just plain stupid. What on earth would an enterprise systems management software vendor do with a fading boutique hardware supplier that has no software of any real value?" The reason it should, I added, is that "Somebody needs to put Sun's shareholders out of their misery ... there must be somebody in the bowels of CA's Long Island headquarters who still remembers how to acquire a company and make all traces of it go away."

Tongue now out of cheek, there's no doubt that it would have been tragic if the talents of Sun's engineers had been allowed to fade away. If the acquisition does happen, IBM will have done itself -- and the industry -- a huge favor.

Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "IBM and Sun: What took them so long?" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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