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IBM and Sun reportedly in merger talks

The Wall Street Journal reports that IBM is in talks to purchase Sun Microsystems. It is suggested that the deal could be valued at as much as $6.5 billion. Such a deal could give IBM more sway in Java standards.

[UPDATE] - The Wall Street Journal reports that IBM is in talks to purchase Sun Microsystems. It is suggested that the deal could be valued at as much as $6.5 billion.

If the deal goes through, IBM would gain greater share in UNIX-oriented high-performance and enterprise server and storage markets. It might also gain a greater role in stewarding Java and J2EE (now known as ''Java EE'') software standards.

Such a deal would mark a new stage for Java, originated by Sun and widely implemented by IBM and others.

''I think the big question would be whether IBM would be a good steward of the Java platform,'' said consultant Jeremey Deane. Deane, Tactical Architect for Burlington, Mass.-based Collaborative Consulting, commented while attending TheServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas.

''We see an explosion right now in new languages running on the Java Virtual Machine,'' said Deane. IBM's approach to J2EE could have ''tremendous impact,'' he said.

''Sun has done a good job of stewardship with the platform,'' said Deane, ''but it has not done a good job with making money. Maybe IBM could do both.''

Ovum analyst Tony Baer did not see great benefit for IBM in this proposed acquisition. ''Sun has been approaching various suitors over the past few months as it requires an exit strategy, '' Baer wrote on his OnStrategies Perspectives blog. "But Sun will be a waste of IBM's money, not to mention the time spent digesting a large acquisition of questionable added value."

Baer suggested that Sun long ago in effect ceded much of the Java business and development tooling standards to IBM.

Java as glue

The strongest glue between the two companies is likely to be Sun's Java technology. However, Sun and IBM have been long term collaborators in a number of other areas. In August 2007 IBM and Sun first announced plans to cooperate on server technologies. The collaboration allowed Sun's Solaris OS to run on top of IBM hardware. IBM and Sun are also both heavy supporters of OpenOffice. Last November they jointly launched the OpenDocument Format (ODF) Toolkit Union. The toolkit provides developers an API for reading, writing and manipulating documents. But the most significant collaboration to date has been around Java.

Although it is possible that IBM might use the Sun acquisition as a way to solidify control around Java, some analysts believe that this would only cost them in the long run. Both Oracle and SAP have their own Java implementations. RedMonk Analyst Michael Cote said, "It would be a bone-head move for whoever acquires Java to use it as a tool against competitors. A large reason that people want to use Java is because it is not Microsoft. As the new owner of the asset you would shoot yourself in the foot if you made other folks in Java the ecosystem not want to use it."

Cote said IBM has one of the stronger SOA portfolios. Sun has developed a more simplified approach with Glassfish. Cote believes that Glassfish is better suited for smaller scale SOA implementations than IBM's WebSphere approach. However, he expects that IBM will stick to what is working.

Judith Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz and Associates, said IBM is picking up some good software assets for SOA, which will strengthen to IBM's leadership in SOA. She said the most significant acquisitions would include Sun virtualization technology and Sun's customer base.

Hurwitz believes that primary drivers for the merger are the economic downturn, and Cisco's recent announcement to get into data center hardware with what it calls Unified Computing System, which unites compute, network, storage access, and virtualization.

Reached for comment, Wayne Citrin, CTO of JNBridge said the acquisition could strengthen the Java community. He said "This is something that people have talked about for years. A lot of people think that IBM would be a good steward for the Java language, and that can only strengthen the community. One of the problems with SOA is that the standards are very fragmented because of the nature of the Java community. It is possible that IBM could help unify them or drive them in a more coherent direction."

Both IBM and Sun spokespeople declined to discuss the reports of a merger.

Talk from TheServerSide

Reaction among members of's sister Java-oriented site was mixed on the possible acquisition. David McCoy noted that IBM has done some good things for Java, but he wonders if IBM will continue to support two JVMs. Meanwhile, James Watson fears that Java could lose some of its credibility as a cross-platform vendor neutral platform.

Zac Jacobson noted, "If WebSphere becomes the reference implementation for j2ee going forward, this will be looked back upon as a dark, dark day. On the other hand, my impression is that IBM is out there using this stuff every day more than Sun was, so I'm hopeful that this will give Java some stronger direction."

Others are concerned that Java could take a second class seat to IBMs other SOA/BPM technologies. Chintan Rajyaguru wrote, "I have been seeing a lot of new IBM products targeted for SOA/BPM market, which is a good thing and something I would expect from a thought leader, but I wouldn't want JVM/Java to get a second class citizen status under IBM because of its focus on SOA/BPM."

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