The gods must be crazy: Dell and Sun link up

Sun wants to be cheaper. Dell wants to be cool. Is there middle ground?

If you want proof that open source is turning the world on its head, look no further than this announcement that Dell will be distributing Solaris on select Dell PowerEdge servers. Said Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun:

A third of Solaris users are running Dell systems. Our customers love working with Dell, and this is an opportunity that began from the customer base. The big message is you've got a lot more choice this year than last year.

Sun moves downstream in terms of hardware while Dell moves upstream in terms of software. Innovation (of business models and of technology) meets in the middle.

Or, as Forbes points out, this may just mean that both vendors are desperate:

The two companies have run out of ideas for building a server business able to bump off Hewlett-Packard or IBM....

[While presumably giving Sun a way to go after the kind of "high-margin software support contracts that have made Linux distributor Red Hat a success,"] buddying up, Dell and Sun are trying to wring sales out of customers who are going in different directions. If you're putting Solaris on Dell machines, you're either already a Sun customer--and you're tiptoeing away from the Santa Clara, Calif.-based software and server vendor--or you're a Dell customer fooling around with heavy-duty Unix, and chances are you're looking to trade up to bigger servers than Dell now sells.

In short, this marriage of convenience may not serve the vendors or their customers particularly well. Sun is apparently looking for other such deals, as The Register reports, but what is the long-term game plan? To get Solaris on as much cheap hardware as possible and sell support contracts on top?

It may work It's certainly very different from Sun's old strategy which has run low on gas in the past few years. The question for me is whether Sun's culture can do commodities. It's an innovation culture that thrives on being the best, not on being the cheapest. Dell, by contrast, is all about cheap, but is trying to be innovative. Perhaps the two really can meet in the middle.


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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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