Ed Zander: Sun's heir apparent

Ed Zander, president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems, embodies the corporate face of Sun, marking a stark contrast to the ‘t-shirt and sandals,’ leadership of CEO Scott McNealy. Now Zander and McNealy are aiming to build on the company’s large Unix base and evolve into the ‘ma bell’ of Internet computing.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  November 29, 2000

Ed Zander, president and chief operating officer with Sun Microsystems, embodies the corporate face of Sun, making a stark contrast to the ‘t-shirt and sandals,’ leadership of CEO Scott McNealy. Now Zander and McNealy are aiming to build on the company’s large Unix base and evolve into the ‘ma bell’ of Internet computing.

How does Sun intend to grow iPlanet to a one billion dollar business in just 18 months, particularly with untested software products?

iPlanet has seen solid revenue growth over the past few quarters that reinforces our belief that we are on track to becoming the first $1 billion pure-play e-commerce software provider. In addition, we have made several significant product announcements, including the Internet Service Deployment Platform, that should give us even more momentum.

Today, our products are already used by some of the largest companies around the world. They are battle tested and reliably provide a robust, massively scalable environment for e-commerce.

In the Middle East market Sun is predominately a hardware operation, how do you go about building a software business in emerging markets?

There’s a reason we named the company Sun Microsystems. We make complete systems. Not just hardware. Not just software. What we offer our customers is an integrated, tuned, and tested hardware/software stack. That includes software from Sun and from our strategic partners.

The best way to build a business in emerging markets is by delivering the right products. In our case, we offer highly scalable, highly reliable systems based on open standards. We believe that will play well in any market.

We also seek to encourage local innovation by creating strong developer communities and ecosystems around Sun’s architectures and products.

Does Sun plan to separate its software business from its hardware business, or does the company intend to leverage its installed hardware base?

Sun provides complete end-to-end systems for doing business in the network age. The software we create — from NFS to Java to the full range of iPlanet e-commerce applications — is all designed with the network in mind. That means open standards and cross-platform compatibility.

How does Sun intend to support iPlanet on platforms other than Solaris?

iPlanet has a dedicated sales force that works not only with the Sun sales force but also with other systems providers to deliver e-commerce solutions. The iPlanet sales force is not Sun centric. We work with customers that implement iPlanet solutions on a number of hardware platforms. In addition, we have strong relationships with system integrators that deliver solutions on a number of hardware platforms.

Our objective is to make sure we can provide iPlanet solutions on whatever hardware architecture that makes business sense to us and our customers.

It may seem odd to many organisations, particularly those in emerging markets like the Middle East, that Sun is now putting together a software portfolio. What would you say to many organisations that doubt Sun is a software company?

Software has always been one of our core competencies. If we’re not a software company, then how did we come up with powerful networking standards such as NFS and XML? You don’t create innovations like Java and Jini without a keen understanding of software. We take software very seriously — it’s one of our passions.

Sun has struggled to put together a comprehensive services business, to match anything from HP or IBM. How do you intend to correct this?

Our services organisation has more than 10,000 people and has been growing rapidly for the past four years. Last year, it accounted for more than $2.3 billion in revenues. Unlike some other high-tech companies, we’re partnering — not competing — with the big five consulting firms to make sure our customers are getting the right combination of products and services to meet their business needs.

Sun has been criticised in the past of not being able to put together global service deals, is this still the case?

Our services teams are now integrated into our global sales organisation, which means they’re involved upfront with professional services, doing the pre-sales work, focusing on the customer lifecycle. In fact, I’d say our investments in creating a single sales force — and that includes all the people and process considerations from our services teams — is winning a lot of deals for us.

What is the strength of the company’s consulting division, and how has this been translated down to markets like the Middle East?

Nobody designs architectures better than our dot-com consultants. The Internet, with its phenomenal growth and enormous traffic spikes, is taking us all into uncharted territory nearly everyday. Dealing with the inherent challenges can, at times, seem like changing tires on a race car without benefit of a pit stop. The good news is that Sun, whose customers include many of the biggest and most complex dot-com installations in the world, is rounding the experience curve faster than any other company out there.

What is the time frame that Sun has to build its software, services and storage businesses up?

Our core assumption that every man, woman, and child on the planet will be connected to a high-speed network at all times is becoming a reality. But the opportunities ahead are actually much bigger than that.

Soon everybody and everything will be connected to the Internet. Think about all the appliances in your home that have a microprocessor in them — TVs, stereos, microwaves, refrigerators. Think about the millions of cars being built every year, each with about 50 to a 100 microprocessors. Think about all the wireless phones, pagers, and palm-sized devices out there. Connect all that and more — everything, in fact, with a digital or electrical heartbeat — and you begin to see the potential market for Sun’s products. We are on the verge of what may well become the biggest equipment industry in history — an industry with almost insurmountable opportunity. That’s a good place to be.

Would you agree that software/services and storage all need to be hugely profitable in order for Sun to keep it’s $2 billion R&D business going?

Those are all markets we are going after very aggressively. The opportunities are enormous, for the reasons I’ve just described. We believe Sun has the products, the technologies, and the know-how to do very well. And we will continue to invest in the future. That’s what we do — what we’ve always done.

When will Sun make money from Java?

Java isn’t about making money, though licensing fees do help pay our development costs. The Java platform is a key enabling technology for the networked world. By establishing Java as a de facto standard and offering open access to the technologies, Sun is helping businesses worldwide to move to the age of networked computing, which benefits us all.

How does StarOffice fit into Sun’s long term strategy?

From the beginning, our aim has been to make network computing simple and seamless — for anyone, anywhere, anytime, on just about anything. StarOffice fits into that vision very nicely. The next step, StarPortal, is to make office productivity software more like e-mail or calendar software that you get right through your Web browser. No need to install or upgrade anything. Your service provider takes care of all that, and you simply go about your business.

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