Ten minutes with Jonathan Schwartz

ACN sat down with Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems to talk about all things open-source and what was next on the radar for the solar-themed company

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Ten minutes with Jonathan Schwartz SCHWARTZ: Storage was nicknamed ‘snore-age’ since it was such a boring area but now it’s fantastically interesting.
By  Mark Sutton Published  April 4, 2009 Arabian Computer News Logo

What is Sun doing to drive open source in developing markets?
The good news about developing markets is that for the most part, open source appeals to those that are driving change and are investing in infrastructure. In a way, open source in developing markets is a far simpler message to send than in more mature markets.

What educational outreach programs do you have planned for open source?
For the vast majority of the open source community, what they care about is getting access to the technology. What we offer, and we are a for-profit corporation, is the quid pro quo. Open source is fundamentally a community activity, which implies a level of self-sustenance. This isn't Sun advertising in educational magazines, this is computer science departments and engineering groups across the world, that are naturally connected to the internet, and form somewhat natural technical communities.

Your blog has featured a ‘pink dot' map of the globe with a pink dot representing each opt-in registration instance of Solaris 10 and Open Solaris. The Middle East doesn't show a lot of pink dots - are there geographic areas where open source needs more of a helping hand?
I think there are some economies in the world that may not have felt any degree of economic sensitivity. If you are producing $100 million of wealth every day, you might not be concerned about the capacity to save on your next database purchase.

But if you look at China and India in the pink dot map, you won't see that many dots by comparison to Western Europe, but that is partially because we don't reflect the copies that are distributed once they are downloaded. If you are in areas where bandwidth is precious, you will see that once a download is done, a CD is printed from that and the CDs are spread across the world.

Is there a danger that by trying to make money from open source, that Sun might face a backlash from the user and developer community?
I doubt it. There are certainly fringe elements of any community that don't believe in commercial software, but that's somewhat of a radical fringe. For the vast majority of the open source community, what they care about is getting access to the technology. What we offer, and we are a for-profit corporation, is the quid pro quo. What we expect in return is that you can do with it as you see fit, and we then expect you to contribute back the extensions and changes you have made.

What sort of role does Sun have in engaging with governments on open source policy, particularly driving open source in the education sector?
We can and will certainly try to play a role. For the most part, areas that have a focus on computer science and computer engineering tend to be interested in open source for a very basic reason - the curriculum is much, much broader than it would be from simply studying Microsoft Windows.

That sends a lot of universities our way, because they understand what they want, and what they want is technology that is open that gives them access to open markets. In addition, the Java language is still the most instructed language on Earth, it just so happens it is also open source. What most universities are really focused on is not only giving their students the best training possible, but also giving them the preparation for participation in the global market.

After acquiring MySQL, are there other acquisitions that Sun wants to make in open source or related IP?
First and foremost what we are doing now is in the world of storage. A few years ago storage was nicknamed snore-age, because it was such a boring area, but it has become fantastically interesting, in part because of the developments that the consumer electronics companies have driven around flash memory. Next on the landscape is the convergence of networking, storage and servers and how they are all being built from the same parts. So the next market that we will be examining is the networking marketplace.

Given the economic downturn, and I presume even in the [Middle East] there is a downturn. It is a hard thing to say, but crises are great times to invent new ideas, because people have to grasp the new reality. In that environment we are going to be very, very aggressive in trying to pursue these adjacent markets, partly because we can, and because our communities are telling us we ought to.

So you would expect to gain traction in storage against incumbents like EMC due to the economic situation?
Undeniably. If you look at NetApp, it is a good example, they are a company that has basically been building storage devices out of general purpose server components, and then charging $100,000 for a system that we can now deliver for about $10,000. That's a great opportunity for customers that are being tortured by proprietary storage vendors.

It’s been a very long time since I have heard of a Windows user group wanting to get together and have a convention, and yet that happens in the Debian community, the Lustre community, even the Open Solaris community.

For the Gulf region in particular, academia and government-owned companies have not really been under pressure to save money, and there has been some resistance to open source because ‘free' isn't seen as having value - will you be able to change that and put some more ‘pink dots' on the map in the region?
I think in general what you will see is less adoption in academic environments, for exactly the reasons you just suggested - the lead of our academic efforts across the world is a former minister of economics for a developed nation, so he was stunned when he spoke to an individual in charge of education in a developing market, and he was saying how [open source] was a chance to save money and gain innovation, and the response was that ‘we are not really focused on saving money' - he didn't know how to respond!

I think you will see adoption is more likely in large corporates right now, and less in academic environments, and if those large corporate users aren't sensitive to the economy then it probably has less appeal on day one, but they will all come under.

The reality is that if you look at the rise of Facebook - open source tends to be a community activity - it proves that people really like hanging out with each other. We are a very social species, MySQL users like to congregate, so that kind of motivation is also a natural driver, and that creates an affinity for open source.

It's been a very long time since I heard of a Windows User group wanting to get together and have a convention, and yet that happens in the Debian community, the Lustre community, even the Open Solaris community. There are user groups cropping up all over the world.

Open source adoption is a time issue, it's not an ‘if', it's a ‘when'. Economic slowdown accelerates the ‘when', but then again the adoption of open source is a non-economic activity. I'm glad it's happening, but it's not going to matter to my shareholders the day it happens.

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