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Oracle & Sun Microsystems
Take one of the most established players in the enterprise software industry and merge it with one of the most established players in enterprise hardware, you get one hell of of combination, right?
Well, maybe not.
Sun Microsystems, once the darling of Silicon Valley, started to experience problems in the mid-2000's when the emergence of commodity Linux x86-based servers, the rise in popularity of Open Source software and pressure from other high-end enterprise systems vendors such as IBM and HP began to erode much of the company's core server business.
To counteract this downward trend, the company began to embrace a more Open Source philosophy with projects such as Opensolaris, OpenOffice and Glassfish, and began to acquire Open Source software firms such as MySQL AB, VirtualBox and sponsor external Open Source projects such as Xen, which became the foundation for their xVM virtualization product line.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts were too late to save the company, and it became obvious in 2009 that the only route for the company's survival was that of being acquired by a much larger competitor.
IBM, Fujitsu and HP were thought to be the prime candidates, but in a last minute and completely unexpected move, Oracle came in with the winning bid for about $7.2 billion including buying off the company's debt.
What followed was to be expected. Thousands of employees lost their jobs, and many of the Open Source efforts that Sun began were quickly extinguished, including OpenSolaris. The OpenOffice project effectively disbanded and regrouped under the Document Foundation as LibreOffice, and the founding MySQL team forked into a number of different projects.
Under Oracle's leadership, Sun's core hardware business has continued to decline dramatically. To recoup the losses, Oracle filed patent lawsuits against Google for allegedly using their Java intellectual property in their Android operating system, which uses virtual machine software called Dalvik that emulates the programming syntax of, but is not compatible with Java.
Oracle asked the courts for billions of dollars in damages in the hopes of turning their Sun lemon into lemonade. If Oracle had succeeded in collecting substantial damages from Google, it would have made its investment in Sun a smart one.
But as we know now, Oracle's damages by Google were deemed to be zero, and the company collected effectively nothing as a result of its ligitation and is currently awaiting appeal.
If that appeal turns out to be fruitless, then the Oracle acquisition of Sun will probably go down in history as one of the biggest strategic blunders by a technology company of all time.
Either way you look at it, between the mass layoffs of talent, extinguishing of Sun's open source corporate culture and its attempt at weaponizing Java against Google, Sun has become anything but an honest woman under Oracle's stewardship.
AOL & Time Warner
Facing challenges from the growing Internet/Web and broadband industry in the late 1990s that was encroaching on its bread and butter dialup services and "walled garden" of content, on-line services provider America Online pursued a strategy of re-invention as a content and broadband giant by purchasing Time Warner in the year 2000 for a whopping $164 billion.
The merger, executed by AOL CEO Steve Case and Time Warner CEO Gerald M Levin, turned out to be a total fiasco, with the new company unable to capitalize on Time Warner's strengths. Total subscribers of AOL went from an estimated 30 million at the height of its popularity to less than just over 5 million in 2007, with no significant quarterly growth since 2002.
The company's market valuation has plunged significantly from a high of $240 billion to $1.73 billion as of February of 2012.
In 2009, shortly after appointing a new CEO, Tim Armstrong, AOL announced it would spin off Time Warner into a separate public company, ending a fruitless eight year relationship.
AOL has since gone on a New Media purchasing spree, including Patch, Techcrunch and The Huffington Post, which joins their other New Media properties such as Engdaget which it acquired as a result of its Weblogs, Inc. purchase in 2005.
The result of these New Media mergers has been something of a disaster in and of itself.
After re-organizing all of its its new media properties under one roof and appointing Arianna Huffington as its leader, TechCrunch became the subject of a highly publicized internal power struggle.
TechCrunch's founder Michael Arrington came into conflict with Huffington over journalistic ethics when he unveiled a plan, with AOL's backing, to start a venture capitalist fund to invest in the very same sort of companies which he writing for Techcrunch chronicled.
After weeks of public blog posts criticizing his employer and the media circus surrounding him, Arrington was terminated. This resulted in the departure of several members of TechCrunch's staff, including Paul Carr, one of its most popular writers, as well as the company's CEO, Heather Harde.
HP & Compaq
In the late 1980's, HP determined that their PA-RISC systems architecture for enterprise-class servers was going to hit a performance scaling threshold and began to investigate a new systems architecture, VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word).
In 1994, under the direction of CEO Lewis E. Platt, believing that it was no longer cost-effective for HP to have its own microprocessor foundry, the company ceased production and development of PA-RISC, shut down its own foundries and instead partnered with Intel to produce this new VLIW 64-bit enterprise chip, which came to be known as the IA-64.
Released by Intel and HP as the "Itanium" in 2001 after seven years of development and billions of dollars of R&D invested, the chip earned the early nickname of "Itanic" due to its low performance compared to less expensive, commodity x86 chips in most regular business applications. IA-64 also proved to be horribly slow when executing x86 instructions, which it had to do using software emulation.
Eventually, both AMD and Intel would produce 64-bit x86 systems, which when clustered in HPC configurations would easily outperform equivalent IA-64 systems for significantly less money.
IBM and Sun would continue to develop their POWER and SPARC architectures for their high-end servers, which eroded most of HP's high-end market share.
While other vendors such as Dell and IBM briefly introduced and sold Itanium-based systems, they shortly discontinued them. An executive at Dell publicly referred to the product as an "Albatross".
While the Itanium partnership with Intel surely started HP down the road to hell, it was accelerated in 2001 when HP, under the guidance of CEO Carly Fiorina decided to merge with Compaq in a $25 billion dollar deal.
Many large shareholders opposed the merger, including Walter Hewlett, the company's outspoken director and son of the company's co-founder, who engaged in a proxy battle in an attempt to prevent it. The prime objection was that Compaq had many overlapping product lines and would get the company involved in the low-margin PC business that its main competitor, IBM, was already in the process of exiting.
Compaq had only just acquired Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) four years before, along with its powerful 64-bit Alpha RISC chip and Windows NT/Digital UNIX servers that had seen some moderate success in High-Performance Computing environments.
Seen by both executives at HP and Compaq as a redundant overlapping product under the new merged company and with Intel's IA-64 efforts underway, the Alpha -- arguably a much more mature, better supported and more desirable platform was phased out.
Under Carly Fiorina's reign, the merged "New" HP lost half of its market value and the company incurred heavy job losses. Fiorina stepped down in 2005.
Since the Compaq merger, HP has endured numerous problems with failed initiatives, dubious acquisitions (3COM, EDS, Palm, Autonomy) and has been plagued with ineffective management, including two major ethics scandals that have forced Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and two CEOs in succession, Mark Hurd and Leo Apotheker to resign.
Third-party OS development for Itanium other than HP's HP/UX UNIX derivative is now practically non-existent, as Microsoft no longer produces an IA-64 version of Windows Server. Itanium is considered to be a deprecated and legacy architecture by the Linux Kernel Project and is no longer actively supported by mainstream Linux distributions such as Red Hat, SuSE, Debian and Ubuntu.
HP is now the only company to sell Itanium-based servers under their Integrity brand, and Oracle is only begrudgingly still developing software for the chip, after entering and exiting litigation with HP over the matter.