Sun Microsystems is not a name we often associate with education outside of high-end technical fields at the university level. Of course, Sun is responsible for OpenOffice and has recently acquired both MySQL and VirtualBox, all of which (especially OO.org) have quite a bit of relevance here.
I was lucky enough to talk with Joe Hartley, Sun’s VP of Global Education and Healthcare, Monday afternoon, and it's quite clear that Sun is poised to take advantage of the increasing centralization of computing in education, as well as to leverage a growing hardware and software ecosystem that play really well in both K-12 and higher education markets.
Sun has its roots in higher education (Sun actually stands for Stanford University Network workstation) and has always maintained a loyal following among researchers needing high-end workstations. As their product line has evolved, Sun has increasingly penetrated the back offices of universities where, as Mr. Hartley pointed out, students may not even realize they are using Sun hardware.
The company has faced some challenges in this market, largely centering around the need to cover very large geographic areas for sales and support to higher educational institutions. About 10 years ago, Sun attempted to penetrate the K-12 market in the States and found that the extremely heterogeneous needs of K-12 education (as well as an even more decentralized group of customers) simply wasn't a good target yet for Sun's products.
Fast-forwarding, however, to 2008, educational institutions (both K-12 and beyond) are looking to virtualization and immersive learning technologies to deliver better end user experiences with lower support costs and drastically lower environmental impacts. This is where Sun comes in, bringing very powerful back end hardware, innovative thin clients, a stable and mature virtualization platform, and a growing software stack to the educational market.
Over the next couple of days, I'll be talking in more detail about some of Sun's education-oriented projects and outlining more of my conversation with Joe Hartley. Suffice to say, when it's time for a refresh of the thin clients and server back end in our district, I'll be putting Sun right on the short list with the usual suspects of HP and Dell. My look into what Sun is doing in our market actually has me rethinking our approach district-wide.