Sun/Oracle deal a harbinger of wider industry consolidation

DENVER, COLO.The acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle has certainly been top of mind among the partners gathered here for Compass, the re-branded annual conference for distributor Avnet Technology Solutions’ Sun partners, and the executives from the two companies.

With the VARs and solution providers at the conference devoting a large percentage of their business to Sun, there’s undeniably some anxiety over what the future may hold for Sun’s hardware, storage and server businesses once the company is absorbed by Oracle.

While he said he had to be careful in his public comments on the Oracle acquisition, Randy Seidl, senior vice-president, North America region for Sun, attempted to assuage partner concerns by reading several public statements by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. In the statements, Ellison affirmed Oracle’s commitment to Sun’s hardware, storage, server and processor businesses, as well as the company’s commitment to maintaining and growing its channel as a key route to market.

Seidl also acknowledged some of the business uncertainty that Sun partners have been experiencing and facing through the acquisition process.

“I’m sorry for some of the pain we’ve put you through but we’re certainty still here for you, and we couldn’t be here without you,” sad Seidl.

However, Seidl said he believes the Oracle acquisition and the commitment by Oracle to continue investing in the Sun business will put the company, and its channel, in a better competitive position.

“It has certainly been painful having HP and IBM all over our customers,” said Seidl. “I think we’re now going to come out of this stronger, and be better able to really challenge them.”

Paul Edwards, director of smb and channels research with IDC Canada, said Oracle’s more recent acquisitions have all been about expanding its portfolio beyond the database, and this acquisition is no exception. Oracle is focused on the short-term numbers, implying this was just as much a financial transaction as an investment in technology.

“This clearly implies a year of uncertainty for Sun staff as layoffs are clearly on the horizon (over and above those already announced) as well as product rationalization,” said Edwards.

Edwards added that Oracle’s more recent acquisitions have all been about expanding its portfolio beyond the database, and this acquisition is no exception.

Sun partners such as Toronto’s HighVail Systems are looking for more information on Oracle’s plans for Sun. HighVail president Bradley Brodkin said there’s no question he’s been hearing from customers questioning what’s going on, and he shares their curiosity. His own personal sense is Oracle will sell off pieces of the Sun business, but what pieces and to whom is another story.

“I am looking at alternatives (vendors),” said Brodkin. “There’s no question we’re positioning ourselves for the future, and I think every VAR is doing that today.”

However, Brodkin said HighVail remains a very strong Sun partner, growing its Sun business by 150 per cent last year.

“We’re not getting closer to Oracle because, frankly, what I’m being told at this point is that Oracle isn’t getting closer to Sun,” said Brodkin. “Until the actual acquisition happens it’s not going to make a difference and they’ll be running independent for a period of time.”

From Avnet’s perspective, Mike Hurst, the vice-president and general manager of Sun solutions for Avnet Technology Services, said he sees the Oracle/Sun deal as a harbinger of an industry-wide consolidation trend. The technology industry is past its start-up growth phase, said Hurst. Down the line, much as was the case in the auto industry, he predicts something akin to a “Big Three” of the technology industry will emerge.

“What is certain is they’ll be big, and they’ll influence how we all go to market,” said Hurst. “They’ll be building integrated stacks to power end-to-end solutions.”

The analogy Hurst draws is would you really buy a car without the engine? You can’t divorce the machinery from the car that drives it.

The technology industry has been slow to realize that, and he said that’s what cloud computing is all about. Where the box is located is irrelevant; it’s what the box does that matters.

“As the industry consolidates, look for vendors to bring hardware, software and applications back together,” said Hurst.

His advice for Avnet’s Sun partners, said Hurst, is to start with the ending, because it’s the best way to begin. Specialize, know your customers, and position yourself as the go-to partner for your specialization and area.

“If you control the last mile, you control the customer relationship. Partners are the last mile,” said Hurst. “Reach out to your local Oracle reps and show them you’re the go-to partner in your area.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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