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No IBM deal? Confusion sets in for Sun customers

In the grand scheme of things, Sun would be small potatoes for Big Blue. For Sun, the failure of the IBM-Sun talks was huge.

This was originally posted at ZDNet's Between the Lines.

It appears that Sun Microsystems won't be acquired by IBM, after all. Now the explaining--mostly to customers and shareholders--really begins.

Sun will tell its customers that the IBM deal was just a slight detour and that the company's plan to be a pivotal hardware, cloud-computing, and software provider remains intact. The big question is whether customers will buy Sun's talk--not to mention Sun's gear. For shareholders, Sun has to explain why it split over the IBM offer.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Sun's board is split (Techmeme). CEO Jonathan Schwartz wants the IBM deal. Chairman Scott McNealy doesn't. Guess who wins that one? McNealy, who is dead wrong by the way, will return quips and all and probably bring the company back to its hardware roots. It won't matter. Sun's customers need to know only one thing: Schwartz's strategy (see the stack in the image below)--focusing the company on software--is in flux.

Sun software products
Larry Dignan/ZDNet

Given reports that Sun had been shopping itself around and could find only IBM as a suitor, there's a decent chance that the company will remain independent for a bit. However, any customer buying from Sun will have to consider the ramifications of a purchase. For instance, if you're about to buy Sun hardware and Hewlett-Packard is in the running, why wouldn't you opt for the latter just to eliminate some uncertainty? After all, HP could buy Sun. What about cloud services? Will you trust your cloud to a company that has a tug-of-war under way over a buyout?

Look for Dell, IBM, and any other Sun rival to pounce into the fear, uncertainty, and doubt game. In the grand scheme of things, Sun was small potatoes for IBM. For Sun, the failure of the IBM-Sun talks was huge.

Every question about Sun will come back to the company's future plans. Do you buy Sun's road map five years out? Do you assume that Sun's cloud services will ultimately be absorbed elsewhere?

Given recent events, a tech buyer would be foolish not to incorporate Sun's future owner--and management--into any buying plans and use the IBM flap as leverage.