Wednesday evening I'm at Le Colonial in San Francisco's Tenderloin District having a spirited discussion with one of Sun's young Turks, a bright software engineer called Bryan Cantrill.
We're talking about a technology he and his team have developed called DTrace. Quite simply it is a way to spot performance bottlenecks in today's complex IT systems. If you don't have that kind of capability these days, and he says IBM doesn't, then you need it because finding performance bottlenecks is near impossible without such tools.
DTrace is an open source technology but that is just a checkbox feature (open source arguments are so 2003...) DTrace is also a sales tool. With DTrace, IT departments can pinpoint and optimize their IT processes, which means they are optimizing their business processes, which means immediate bottom line benefits. The ROI argument on such things is a no brainer.
What is interesting about Sun's approach is that here is a way to sell Sun systems. It is a new way to be proprietary and still be a good open source citizen.
But this is not new, Sun has always used software to sell hardware; you could say that it wraps metal around software.
These days Sun has a decent story in terms of where it fits into the IT landscape. But that has required a jarring shift in culture, and a big adjustment from years of unbridled growth, to coping with years of lean and progressively leaner times.
Sun isn't anywhere near capturing the stunning margins of its pre-bust glory days but then again neither is anyone else. It's important to remember that the IT enterprise market didn't go away, it's still a massive market, and Sun has managed to hang onto a piece of that ecosystem.
Even if IT budgets don't grow by much these days, the mix of IT budget spending is shifting towards new projects and away from legacy infrastructure maintenance. That's good for Sun and other IT vendors.
The question is whether Sun can continue its cultural adjustment, and accept that its customers have to manage heterogeneous IT environments. DTrace only runs on Solaris (and Mac OS X but that's not an enterprise system). Will DTrace convince them to go homogenous? If it is powerful enough maybe it will.
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Bryan Cantrill's Blog: The Observation Deck