At Amazon, Sun Coming Out From the Cloud

Sun Microsystems is getting ready to talk about its cloud computing efforts, including some kind of a deal with Amazon for its Amazon Web Services, according to CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who delivered a short keynote at Startup Camp in San Francisco. Startup Camp is an adjunct event to the JavaOne Conference that kicks off later this week. [digg=]

Following his keynote, I got on stage with Schwartz and asked him a few questions. I queried him about Sun and its cloud computing efforts, given that it was nearly a decade ago that then-CEO Scott McNealy started talking about how “the network is the computer.” In response, Schwartz said they have some interesting news coming out later this week. He refused to give the details, but he seemed pretty excited.

When I asked him about Sun — and cloud computing especially — in light of the recent trend in which startups now have more of an affinity with Amazon Web Services than Sun, Schwartz replied with a question: “Do you think it would make sense for us to partner with Amazon to offer free info on the cloud?” I guess, I said. “Then you’ll be paying attention to the announcement we make tomorrow with what we’ll be doing with Amazon.”

He pointed out that Amazon has done a great job of evangelizing the whole notion of cloud computing, and of bringing infrastructure as a service to startups. “Amazon knocked the ball out of the park,” he said. For Sun, the opportunities are with mid-size and large corporations — banks, pharma and financial companies — that need to build their own clouds because they cannot use Amazon type on-demand computing due to certain legal and regulatory limitations.

Schwartz said that startups are important for his company, because as they grow they create demand for Internet data centers, which ultimately boosts demand for his company’s products: hardware. When I was asking him questions, at one point he admonished me for thinking of Sun as a server company. Sorry Jonathan, I can’t be blamed, having followed Sun for such a long time, for thinking that way!

He pointed out that Sun means different things to different people. To web developers, Sun is MySQL; for teens it is the Java logo before they start playing a game on their mobile phones; for the high-performance computing community, Sun is Lustre. In the end, all of these efforts, including the company’s backing of the open-source and free software movements, are meant to drive sales of more hardware, Schwartz explained.

I think it’s part of the challenge Sun faces as a company, because it’s hard to outline the new complexity of Sun to Wall Street. The explanation becomes harder to explain in light of financial results that were, well, light, and led to 2,500 people getting the pink slip.

When I asked him about that decision and how it weighed on him, Schwartz turned the question back on me. My response, I suppose, as a capitalist, is that tough decisions come as part of doing business. That kind of attitude, Jonathan said, leads to sweatshops and doesn’t result in lasting cultures. “We are a company whose assets go home every night.” I think this one time, he gets to have the last word!