Parsing Sun's rhetoric

Parsing Sun's rhetoric

Summary: Nick Carr gives Sun one of his tongue lashings and a bit of advice in a recent blog post:Sun Microsystems is a funny company. It jumped directly from hyperactive adolescence to midlife crisis, complete with ponytail.

TOPICS: Oracle

Nick Carr gives Sun one of his tongue lashings and a bit of advice in a recent blog post:

Sun Microsystems is a funny company. It jumped directly from hyperactive adolescence to midlife crisis, complete with ponytail. Ever since the dot-com crash decimated its free-spending customer base, the company’s been on a quest to find itself – and give a jolt to its flat-lining stock price. That quest, dutifully chronicled in the blog of company president Jonathan Schwartz, has looked increasingly desperate of late, as Sun has bounced between marketing pitches like Ricochet Rabbit on a meth jag. One minute it’s the Anti-Dell, then it’s the Leader in Responsible Computing, then it’s the Fastest Chip on Earth company, then it’s the Volume Is Everything company, then it’s the Free Software company, then it’s "The Dot in Web 2.0," then it's challenging Steve Jobs to a “pod duel” – and that’s just in the last two months.

Nick then goes on to say that the "sad thing about Sun's lack of discipline is that it distracts from the company's powerful message about the computer industry’s very real energy crisis." He thinks that Sun has an opportunity "blaze a trail toward a whole new model of more-efficient business computing," but advises that Sun has to "adopt a single, coherent market positioning and stick to it with relentless, unwavering discipline. Blogging is not a strategy."

Nick makes a good point about Sun's flurry of press releases and marketing messages, flip flopping on who is friend and foe and the constant state of reinvention as the company tries to regain sales momemtum and the mantle of technology leadership. The company produces a lot of rhetoric and soundbytes that we in the press rarely fail to recite. It's a company that loves to play with words (as Nick does), and can't resist making bold statements.

On the other hand, Sun is one of the few mainstream companies that demonstrates any intellectual grit and is willing to bet its future on open source and its own technology innovations, such as the new energy efficient UltraSparc T1 systems.

Despite the forays into messaging like "powering the Participation Age" or "Sharing," Sun has one basic message: The Network is the Computer. It has held up well, and is more than a marketing slogan. Sun's business is still focused on delivering infrastructure that powers the network, and in the Internet era the opportunity is far greater. The question is whether Sun can capitalize on the opportunity, trailing IBM and HP in server sales by a wide margin, and a few percentage points behind Dell in the latest surveys.

Sun is in the fight of its life and waging war on several fronts--end-to-end software stacks, Java vs. .Net, servers. The company believes that it has to make lots of noise and rattle cages to get the attention of enterprise buyers (and the press) in the wake of Microsoft, IBM's steady On Demand initiative, HP's rather vapid Adaptive Enterprise and the Dell/Intel machine.  

Sun's blogging, evangelism, press campaigns and trash talking are aimed at keeping the conversation alive and Sun in the middle of it. It's part of an effort to re-educate the CIOs of the planet on the misery of continuing to plow money into the previous generation of technology and delivery models.

In his latest post, Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz, offers another articulation of Sun's mission:

To steal a quote, no one at Sun wants us to be just a great company with great technology. We also want Sun to be a good company - we believe we can change the planet. And we believe decision makers across the world, from voters to developers, legislators to CFO's are beginning to say, "something has to change." May we be the first among many, to respond...

More aspirational rhetoric, which is one of the main outputs of corporate blogs, but the "something" in Schwartz's statement does refer to Nick's notion of Sun blazing "a trail toward a whole new model of more-efficient business computing." Whether Sun needs a overarching marketing message beyond its long-standing 'Network in the Computer' I'll leave to the marketing experts. For the near term, Sun just needs to convince lots more customers that it's rhetoric is righteous and  that it's technology and business model are ahead of the competition and sustainable.

Topic: Oracle

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Carr vs. Sun

    Carr is irritated at Sun, because Sun says IT matters, and Carr says it does not. In fact at the recent Sun event, Sun slammed Carr and his thesis.

    So Carr is getting a little revenge with one of the easiest pickings, Sun's scattered message. However, I don't know if Carr is a marketing expert or an IT expert. Perhaps he should stick to one message.

    I think Sun's scattered message in the past has been an attempt to keep itself in the press. As some of Sun's past troubles were due to a lagging product line, we will likely see the message stabilize as the Opteron, UltraSPARC Iv+, and UltraSPARC T1 systems become the heart of Sun's product line, and hopefully for Sun, sales increase.
  • Confusing rhetoric with product, strategy

    It's always easy to be clear when you're singing a single note: (1) Intel's x86 architecture on the desktop and server. (The Itanic disaster and power overload of x86 shows how complexity ain't Intel's long suit). (2)Windows is always the answer at Microsoft. (3) Apple's splendid server/storage story is muted and little heard.

    Is more difficult to particpate at the highest levels in the most sophisticated IT spaces? That's IBM and HP and Sun.

    It's simple to tell a simple story. Complex ones are harder.
  • Overarching message.

    Mr. Faber shows how the public assumes a single message, with subordinate statements.

    Sun: the network is the computer
    Microsoft: computer use made easy
    IBM: grab the money.

    The problem for Sun is, the network is not the computer. Some reporters are writing as if the internet is the network is the computer. We'll see how far that gets in practice, where money is paid.

    The real message from Sun should be good hardware at a good price.
    The company may produce good software, but revenue has been sacrificed to PR and vague hopes, so the message can't include software anymore.

    The basic message for any company must be: why you should spend money on our products.
    Anton Philidor