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Analysis: Why IBM-Sun merger makes sense

Posted: 20 Mar 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multicore processor? cloud computing? open source market? IBM-Sun merger?

A possible merger of IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. makes business sense and has significant implications for the Sparc and Power microprocessors as well as Java software.

For several years now, the computer industry has been in an era where bigger is better. So it should come as no surprise that two days after Cisco Systems said it is jumping into the server business, reports have emerged that IBM may try to acquire Sun for $6.5 billion.

Massive and highly integrated data centers from Internet giants such as Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft hold increasing sway in the server business that is the sole focus for IBM and Sun. These Internet data centers will host a growing share of the world's applications in the emerging cloud computing era, and they want fewer vendors with broader and deeper offerings.

That's why Cisco believes it has an opportunity to wrap its switches together with servers in a novel architecture that will gain traction. The few details available on the offerings Cisco will debut starting in April suggest the company has done its homework on how to provide some unique value for data center operators in hot areas such as virtualization and unified networking.

Cisco's play puts added pressure on existing computer makers, and Sun long has been the most vulnerable of the top tier players and thus most ripe for consolidation. Since the dot.com bust, the company has shed staff in several reorgs as it struggled to regain profitability.

Sun's troubles stem in large part from the fact it is one of the smallest of the vertically oriented computer makers, trying to support its own microprocessor and OS architecture. In the bigger is better era, that's a bad spot to be in.

If it goes ahead, an IBM-Sun combination will be the biggest consolidation step in computing since Hewlett-Packard bought Compaqand the cultural dissonance will be every bit as bad. Big Blue is legendary for its conservatism while Sun has long been the industry maverick.

The contrast is clear from its CEOs on down. IBM's Sam Palmisano is all business and rarely in the limelight. Sun's Jonathan Schwartz is one of high tech's most popular bloggers and a self-styled open-source visionary.


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