The Financial Times' Richard Waters wrote an excellent analysis of Sun's open-source strategy on Monday, and in the process reminded me of something that should have been obvious:
Open source is the very thing that has crippled Sun, yet Sun is looking to open source, to hobble its competitors and revive its future. We often talk in the technology industry about the need to cannibalize your own business before someone else does it to you. Sun may be a little late off the starting blocks, but it's fascinating to watch its race against time.
From Waters' article:
By turning to the Linux operating system, which is distributed free of charge and runs on low-cost, standardised servers, many of Sun's customers were able to free themselves from the company's more expensive proprietary servers and software.
Mr Schwartz's response: not only, belatedly, to co-opt open source himself, but to use the approach to try to subvert whole new areas of the technology business.
Having open-sourced its own Solaris operating system, Sun has now tried to corner the market in open source databases with its $1bn purchase of MySQL, the database management system. It now also has its eyes set on the storage market, with a plan to inflict the same pain on incumbents there that it has itself felt from the rise of Linux.
It's a hugely gutsy move. It remains to be seen whether it will work, but with Sun's OpenStorage business growing dramatically faster than the rest of the storage industry, it just might work.
The 451 Group's Matt Aslett has some suggestions for how to maximize Sun's open-source growth, including some improvements to its MySQL business like an open-source Business Intelligence acquisition (JasperSoft, Pentaho, or Actuate, anyone?), each of which make sense to me. The net? Now that Sun has started down the open-source path, it needs to go all the way, rather than making half-steps that end up slowing its pace.