Now it's mounting a serious campaign to win back channel companies turned off by changes in Sun's partner program late last year, and add new partners to its list as well. The key to its effort is its Solaris operating system which, company execs said, has many of the open-source advantages of Linux, and the extra support and enterprise-oriented features of proprietary Unix from a major hardware vendor.
During today's webcast entitled 'Why Sun should be your premier business partner,' Sun executives touted new additions and refreshes in its product line and said it intends to expand its ecosystem of partners.
"Our partner community represents over 14,000 participants [and] over 5,000 ISVs," said Juan Carlos Soto, Sun's vice president of market development. "This is really what fuels our business because, at the end of the day, customers want to buy solutions," said Soto.
Soto said Sun is responding to complaints from its partner community, including an increase in time to market, as well as the need for security, reliability and scalability to store, track and analyze data. Power, cooling and other data-center management issues are also an increasing issue with channel partners, he said.
"It's driving us to a bunch of evolving business models that may not be natural for older businesses; things such as software as a service, and the importance of open-source companies," Soto said.
Soto said Sun is also adapting to take advantage of the kind of horizontal scalability requirements that Web 2.0 software models require – an add-a-server growth tactic that fits with traditional Unix server products, such as Sun's.
In addition to good news on the financial front -- Sun posted second quarter revenues of $3.56 billion or a 7% increase over the $3.33 billion earned in the same quarter a year earlier -- Soto said the company has made investments in chip-design technology, developed archive systems built around tape, and expanded its high-performance, high-speed network-attached storage (NAS) devices. It has also boosted support services to partners, he said.
Still, the company believes its crown jewel is Solaris, the proprietary version of Unix that it made into an open-source product in 2005. Sun execs hope the company's recent partnership with Intel – and Intel's endorsement of Solaris as an enterprise-grade platform -- will expand its installed base even further.
"At the center of all of this innovation for us is Solaris. We've made a huge bet on Solaris, we believe this is the center of how all of these systems really come together," Soto said.
Mike Pickett, vice president of global alliances for Informatica, a Redwood, Calif.-based Sun ISV partner, said that as data volumes grow, customers are grappling with new technologies that might give Solaris an opportunity to expand into new areas.
"We are at another change point, and I believe what's caused it is the explosion of data," Pickett said. "There are a lot of competing architectures and technologies, and people are trying different strategies and options," Pickett said.
According to Pickett, Linux is doing well and so is Solaris; mainframe and client-server technologies are still around, maybe in a different form, but clients are investing at different stages of the curve. Today, Pickett observed, the industry is seeing a proliferation in the high, low and midrange market and clients have options.
"Where Solaris steps in is there is an expanded need for increased computer power at the enterprise level, and that's where clients will push for more mission-critical application and support 24/7," Pickett said.
Pickett said he can't predict how much of the market Solaris will gain: "I can't read tealeaves."
However, Sun offers a great deal of support that Linux companies lack, he said, which makes it more attractive to some customers. Support includes help with prereleased products, engineering resources, optimization of products from Informatica and other partners on Sun's platform, benchmarking, go-to-market activities and helping clients create selling opportunities.
David Barnett, vice president of product management for Real-Time Innovations (RTI), a Santa Clara, Calif.-based middleware company and a Sun ISV partner said Sun is eager to work with partners that can support Solaris OS.
"I get the sense that Sun definitely facilitates partnering with them in supporting Solaris and in particular Solaris for x86," Barnett said.
Pickett said partnering is one sure way to satisfy customer needs.
"Companies that work together in alliances will develop relationships and solutions that are better for our mutual clients' needs," Pickett said.