Sunday Jun 12, 2005

Still curious what would you do with 7.7 Billion Dollars?

I'm still very curious on what folks think Sun should be doing with its cash (which is now in the $4B range due to the pending StorageTek deal). Intelligent commentary welcomed...

Monday Jun 06, 2005

What would you do with 7.7 Billion Dollars?

Given the beating we've taken from critics over the last few years it's no surprise our execs would always point to the $7+ billion in cash and marketable securities we had in the bank. Around the camp fire the conversation has always been "that's nice...what the hell are we going to do with it besides watch it sit and grow at 3%?" Of course there is no shortage of things we need to do to better position the company. The question at hand is what will give us the best bang for the buck?

If you've been following the news the last week you've probably heard that Sun is spending $50+ million on a new advertising campaign and announced we would buy StorageTek for $4.1 billion (really $3.1B when you consider they have about $1B in cash we'll inherit).

First off I'm 100% behind the advertising campaign (although I haven't reviewed it extensively yet to have an opinion if it puts forth the most optimal message). I'd even say we should spend more to make sure it's long running so we gain better mind share with our target audiences. People seem to have all sorts of knowledge about the problems or obstacles we've had but don't spend nearly enough time understanding all the good things we're bringing to the table. Of course as history shows us it would be a fool's game to wait for popular perception to change on its own - it's up to Sun to articulate it's vision, strategy, and offerings to anyone who will listen and do it every day.

I don't know how I feel about the StorageTek deal just yet. Let me state up front I'm not a storage guy and don't even play one on TV so I'm not the best person to judge this situation. I doubt the deal will will hurt us by any stretch - while Sun's acquisition record is spotty I'm fairly sure this will be a plus to our revenues over time. However I'm debating whether or not this deal is the best bang for the buck in the long haul. Spending a huge percentage of our $7.7B ain't something to take lightly and off the top of my head I'd would have picked 20 different things first before I got around to saying we need to buy a storage company.

That said while I mull over these events I'd like to ask folks to sincerely comment upon what you think we should be doing with our cash. I'm truly looking for constructive thoughts on where you would strategically place your bets if you were CEO. If you say something like "drop Sparc and go exclusively with AMD" I'd like to know how you plan on spending part of the cash to deal with the huge installed base, ISVs, and the fallout of such a move - there's no free lunch and the no gain without pain so please be mindful of that when you make your comments. I look forward to the conversation...

Friday May 13, 2005

VHS vs. Betamax: What does Sun got to do with it?

I'm getting my thoughts together to start my advice to Sun column. The ideas are still not fully formed yet and I'm sure I'll ramble a bit but the theme of VHS vs. Betamax keeps coming up in my head. We all know basics of the classic market battle where the inferior quality format came out on top becauase it addressed the consumer's priorities better - for the most part people wanted choice and longer recording times more than they wanted better picture quality. While Sun is on the course of changing our DNA we still to a degree have a Field of Dreams mentality - build it and they will come. In some cases that's true but we need to put a little "VHS" into our repertoire.

My biggest critique of Sun over my 7 year tenure (and 7 as a customer before that) is that we have not poured enough resources/emphasis into making it easier for customers to take advantage of the gold we produce. An example of the DNA flaw was a discussion I had with an engineer 2 years ago at our customer engineering conference. He was talking about how you shouldn't use the newfs defaults when creating a file system for a variety of reasons (granted I'm not sure this is still the case). My immediate response was why isn't the generally agreed upon best file system creations options made the default? He agreed that it was a problem but for a lot of historical reasons it's hard to change stuff like this within Sun. It's things like this that burn me up - I can appreicate the complexities of making changes but when you out-of-the-box put people into suboptimal situations or are asking them to be Jedi apprentices to get in the game that's a long term recipe for disaster. I think a compromise would be adding an interactive mode to commands like this that asks simple questions and then builds a recommended commandline that gives the user a good out-of-the-box experience.

I got bit by the DNA flaw when installing the latest internal build of Solaris Express with the recently integrated new boot architecture. Obivously it's early in the game for the new bits but as I mentioned in my last post my advice is to comment things better in place where you force people to edit things by hand - comments don't cost a thing. Taking it to the next level I'd say it would be a great benefit to users if we interrogated the disks on the systems, asked a few simple questions of the user (will this be a mulitboot setup, etc), and build a usable menu.lst file (one that just doesn't boot Solaris only). It things like this that will go a long way to improve a customer's satisfaction.

My last bit of advice is for our Java Enterprise System stack. If I were in charge of setting priorities I would take the hit now and immediately cease all new feature development to focus the next update release on a truly unified admin console. We've did good job when we implemented a unified installer but the admin side needs work. I know it's a far more difficult problem to solve but I look at this like the old MS-Office vs individual apps battles of past. Most folks thought the individual apps offered by the competiton were probably better than their MS-Office peers (i.e. Quattro Pro vs Excel) but just like the VHS vs Betamax saga integration, cost, etc. won the day. Ease of use needs to be elevated to the same level as scalability, reliability, and availability.

Again I think our technology in many areas is best of breed but when you make it even marginally more difficult for customers (who are strapped for time like we all are) to take advantage of the goods you do yourself no favors in the long haul. And it's not like we don't have the skills to make this happen. We have tons of folks like Calum Benson so I know we can get the job done with the right mix of priority and resources.

Just my initial 2 cents on where Sun should spend some of our 7+ billion in cash and marketable securities...




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