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IBM Wants To Soak Up Some Sun 

Another one is biting the dust. As you know if you've been reading industry news at all this week, IBM is in talks to buy Sun Microsystems. The Wall Street Journal, as it tends to do, broke the story -- but if you want to read the whole article, you'll have to subscribe online. There's no need at this point, though, because there are plenty of takes floating around on the proposed acquisition. And we do mean plenty. That's just a small sample. Really small.

Just what the tech world needs, of course, is another one...so we'll keep it (relatively) short. Rumors, speculation and general buzz about IBM setting its sights on Sun have been around for a while. And the two really could be pretty good for each other. Sun, from which a cloud platform rose just this week, could provide a spark for IBM's cloud strategy. Beyond that, IBM has long been a proponent of Sun's technology, and both companies seem fairly enamored with Linux.

Sun has long been a classic old-school tech company: innovative and interesting but not particularly well-managed. Its current CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, even has a ponytail, which gets a "thumbs up" from your editor but which also perpetuates the tech-first, money-second stereotype.

Sun has been on shaky financial footing for a while and, before finally going through with layoffs in the last couple of years, was unbelievably fat for a company whose best days, revenue-wise, are getting to be a good decade behind it. IBM, of course, despite its ups and downs in the early 2000s, is still a fairly financially disciplined organization and has recently reported impressive earnings. And it has some pretty useful technology, too.

So while some see a clash of cultures, we see opposites potentially attracting. IBM could be the financial savior that keeps Sun's technology shining bright, and Sun could illuminate IBM's cloud plans as well as warm up Big Blue's button-down ethos a bit and provide some rays of technological innovation. (And we're just about out of plays on the word Sun, thank goodness.)

For Microsoft partners, an IBM-Sun combo could be a little scary. Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, arguably not off to the best of starts, would have a major competitor in an IBM-Sun combination. And a Sunnier IBM (you knew there'd be another one) might very well continue the growth of Linux in the enterprise, which wouldn't necessarily be the best of news for Windows.

Then again, putting companies like IBM and Sun together, or absorbing one into the other, isn't the easiest thing to do. (Right, HP and Compaq?) And acquisitions can sometimes lead to less innovation, not more, as the act of squashing two companies into one takes precedence over actually cranking out great new stuff.

Of course, at the time of this writing, the buyout wasn't official yet, so anything can happen. But it looks as though Sun might be the latest big, formerly influential vendor to fade to...well, in this case, Blue, within another organization. And it's probably about time.

What's your take on IBM potentially buying Sun? Sound off at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 03/19/2009 at 1:22 PM


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