March 18, 2002 12:55 PM PST

Sun buys high-end software company

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Sun Microsystems has acquired Clustra Systems and will use its software to make Sun's iPlanet e-commerce software more robust, the company plans to announce Tuesday.

Sun spokeswoman Penny Bruce confirmed Monday that the acquisition took place in February, but she declined to describe the terms of the deal. Sun was among those who invested $22 million in Clustra in 2001.

Clustra, founded in 1997, created a database program that had "clustering" capabilities: When one server crashed, another in the cluster could take over. Clustering is a key part of creating computing services with "high availability," meaning services that are available despite emergencies or mishaps.

Based in Oakland, Calif., Clustra grew to become a 125-person company. But it was hit by the Internet crash and recession, said Gary Ebersol, formerly Clustra's CEO and now one of 40 Clustra employees Sun has hired.

"Innovative new enterprise software in this information technology market was tough to deal with," Ebersol said in an interview Monday. "We decided the appropriate place for us was within a larger company." The acquisition was "a good resolution" for Clustra investors and for Sun's technology portfolio, he said.

But Sun doesn't intend to enter the database market, dominated by companies such as Oracle and IBM. Instead, Clustra's technology will be used in Sun's iPlanet Application Server software product, said spokeswoman Laura Ramsey.

Application-server software runs Java programs on a server, stitching together transactions that span desktop computers, low-end servers that send out Web pages, and back-end databases. For example, one common use of an application server is to run shopping carts for Web shopping sites.

Sun lags BEA Systems and IBM in the application-server market but is working to improve its position and to fend off Microsoft, which would prefer companies employ its .Net technology rather than Sun's Java software.

Clustra's software will allow a transaction being dealt with by Sun's application-server software to continue even if the server handling it crashes, Ebersol said. That means a buyer using an online shopping cart wouldn't have to re-select all the items in the cart.

"In the event of a server failure, you'll be able to restart that transaction," Ebersol said.

The Clustra software will be incorporated in the next version of the application-server product, Sun's Ramsey said. Sun released version 6.5 in February and plans the next version by the end of 2002, she added.

The Clustra software also can be used elsewhere within Sun, Ebersol said, such as in message-queuing software that ensures electronic messages are delivered.


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