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Sun to name Linux-Solaris chief

John Loiacono, Sun Microsystems' former chief marketing officer, will take over a key new role managing the server seller's Linux and Solaris software, the company is expected to announce Tuesday.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--John Loiacono, Sun Microsystems' former chief marketing officer, will take over a key new role managing the server seller's Linux and Solaris software, the company is expected to announce Tuesday.

Sun for years has trumpeted its Solaris version of Unix as one of the cornerstones of its computer sales. Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy debuted computers using a second operating system, Linux, at a news conference Monday as the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo got under way. Loiacono will be in the hot seat for juggling those two priorities.

Much of the success of the new LX50 Linux server line depends on how well Sun balances investments into Linux and Solaris--for example, bringing to Linux the Sun Open Network Environment (Sun ONE) software that currently runs on Solaris. Software will be key to Sun's argument that the new servers are part of Sun's family and not an unloved stepchild.

Loiacono's new job checks off two items on the company's personnel to-do list. Besides filling the last vacancy of deputies reporting to new software chief Jonathan Schwartz, it resolves an awkward part of Sun's organizational chart. Loiacono had been chief marketing officer, but Sun created a seemingly overlapping role in April when it announced the promotion of Mark Tolliver to executive vice president of new marketing and business development.

Sun also lost some of its Linux leadership in April with the departure of Stephen DeWitt, who helped introduce Linux to Sun after Sun acquired Cobalt Networks in 2000 for $2 billion.

Loiacono confirmed the new post in an interview Monday.

New Linux servers
At the news conference, McNealy argued that the arrival of Linux servers within the company is a minor adjustment to the company's strategy--building reliable servers, working in partnership with outside software and services companies, and never locking customers into a particular design.

"There are no big changes in our 20-year strategy," McNealy said.

Others see the Linux servers, which use Intel processors, in a very different light.

"Most people would describe their recent embrace of Linux as an about-face. I wouldn't disagree," First Albany securities analyst Walter Winnitzki said. Selling Linux servers using Intel processors is a recognition that "commodity" hardware has an advantage in some areas over Sun's in-house designs.

McNealy and others for years had a strong focus on a "unified stack" of technology extending from the UltraSparc processor foundation to servers through the Solaris operating system to Java and other higher-level software. Some of that focus now will be diverted to Linux as well.

Sun counters that the effort of designing Intel-based servers is minimal.

"The whitebox here is essentially what we're shipping," McNealy said, referring to the generic Intel-based computers assembled out of standard parts often supplied by Intel itself. "The only thing different is the Sun purple cover. It's about 14 cents."

Sun's low-end "Big Bear" Linux server costs $2,795 for a single Intel Pentium III 1.4GHz processor and 512MB of memory. With two processors and 1GB of memory, it's $4,295, and with two processors and 2GB of memory, it's $5,295.

Sun is advocating Linux only for lower-end jobs such as delivering e-mail, housing protective firewalls, indexing servers on the Internet, or dishing up Web pages. In contrast, IBM backs it on all its servers, including its top-end mainframes that usually cost more than $1 million.

New Sun software roster
Loiacono will be among several new software executives coming out of the woodwork as Schwartz introduces new software executives at a media event Tuesday.

Fleshing out Sun's software roster is an important step in Sun's effort to increase the importance of software at Sun with new initiatives such as N1, which is geared to make large numbers of servers work as a single computing resource.

Schwartz said in an interview that the new appointments besides Loiacono are:

•  Steve MacKay, the former chief technology officer of Sun's systems business, is now vice president of N1.

•  Steve Nathan will spearhead one of Schwartz's top priorities, collecting different software components into unified suites.

•  Curtis Sasaki, who had led efforts to use Java in consumer gadgets such as cell phones, will lead Sun's desktop work such as its StarOffice software suite.

•  Alan Brenner, "the guy who made sure 10 out of the top 10 handset manufacturers actually deploy the (Java) stuff we deliver to them," Schwartz said, is taking over Sasaki's role with devices.

•  Mark Bauhaus, who had been the vice president for Sun ONE consulting, now is responsible for Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the version of Java for servers, and for the Sun ONE application server software.

•  John Fowler, who had been responsible for Sun's technology acquisition strategy for the past two years, will be the software chief technology officer.

•  Anil Gadre, the former head of the Solaris group, will lead software business and marketing and operations such as pricing and sales partner issues.

•  Barbara Gordon, former head of Sun ONE sales, is now head of worldwide software sales.

•  David Nelson-Gal, who had worked with the Solaris team, is now running server software for making sure one system can step in for a fallen comrade in the same "cluster," as well as software to manage files and storage systems.