Freedom is More Powerful than a Budget

For years, Sun has run Executive Advisory Councils (EACs). At these events, we host CEOs and CIOs from the largest corporations in the world for a day and a half’s worth of conversation – about strategy, business and technology. This week, I hosted the first ever EAC targeting IT architects and developers: folks who code, manage those that do or are known as thought leaders or architecture setters. The attendees were from a really diverse crowd, and from around the world (literally) – some flew 24 hrs. to participate. They were also from every industry imaginable: global financial services, gaming, sports media, systems integration, telecommunications even a large postal service.

Personally, I love these events – I always learn from the experience. But they’re normally reserved for C[x]Os, a pattern we decided to change this year. Why? Read this and this for a discussion on the shifting IT power base, and the value of understanding constituencies (vs. traditional hierarchies). The world is changing, and these are some of the folks doing the changing.

A few takeaways from the event:

1. Free and Open Source Software is more alive than ever.
That was probably the biggest takeaway – and speaks to why CIOs are losing some measure of influence over IT decisions. If the means of enforcing organizational influence is budget, and technology goes to free, then budget isn’t so powerful a weapon. Exactly why CIOs don’t pick search engines – they couldn’t if they wanted to.

Almost universally, no one in the room felt that giving access to source code presented a risk (or distraction) to their developers. All felt giving access was really helpful. Under which license? Most folks didn’t care, so long as they had the ability to look at a feature or bug, and recommend changes back to Sun, or deploy a custom fix for their own system – without tainting themselves or their customer’s intellectual property. This was a global sentiment.

2. Java is more alive than ever.
Employed by the companies in the room, there were nearly 100,000 programmers represented (and given the telco, another 50M+ Java handset customers). They’re all training new developers in Java (and many leveraging Java Studio Creator for the training) – and Java’s winding its way into all kinds of performance sensitive environments, like gaming. Take a look at this (beware, it’s about 20MB to download).

Has making Java source available helped? Some said yes, some no – but everyone loves the compatibility and portability. Java is here to stay, and grow and evolve.

2. And C/C++ is alive and well.
Think the world has moved away from “native” development? Nope, not by a long stretch, and not for folks doing core systems work (or writing operating systems or SAN apps). And these folks want our compilers (and the source to them), and preferentially over their free equivalents (gcc). Great feedback, give us a week or so. C++ (heck, Fortran too!) is massively important to us.

3. The bloom is off the rose with Red Hat.
We’re beginning to get through with Solaris 10’s new pricing (free as in beer, not as in puppy – even for commercial usage). Adoption, especially in the financial services world, is beginning to take hold. The funniest stories? The *multiple* developers who admitted their teams built, tested and qualified apps on Solaris, given far better tools and utilities, then ran them on Red Hat to appease those who’ve tied their reputations to it.

Well hey, I think that’s a great idea – I’d like to invite the entirety of Red Hat’s installed base to use dTrace on Solaris 10 to drive free performance improvements you can take back to running on Red Hat. What’s not to love? And while it’s running so well, just remember Solaris is free (as in the real free, not $1,000/cpu free).

4. We’re not getting the message out about our newest hardware.
We heard this loud and clear – we need to shout from the rooftops about our newest x86 systems, app switches, storage and the upcoming Niagara systems. Got it.

5. Web services may collapse under its own weight.
No one at the conference said this. Those are my words. I’m beginning to feel that all the disparate web service specs and fragmented standards activities are way out of control. Want proof? Ask one of your IT folks to define web services. Ask two others. They won’t match. We asked folks around the room – it was pretty grim. It’s either got to be simplified, or radically rethought.

As you know, I also believe simplicity and volume always win – and that today’s web services initiatives are in danger of vastly overcomplicating a very simple (really simple) solution.

7. Security security security.

Who was the most vociferous about security? Oddly enough, the gamer in the room – because a lapse in security can lead to an immediate loss of business from customers that didn’t want their identities (or on-line wealth or reputation) compromised on-line. What’s that worth? Well, the gaming industry is bigger than the the software industry (by far). It’s big bucks.

8. Everything is global.
Nearly all the developers in the room are “following the sun” with development activities – Sun itself does development in Bangalore, Beijing, St. Petersburg, Broomfield, Burlington, Menlo Park – I could go on and on. So we made a conscious choice, a little over a year ago, to start injecting interactivity into our tools.

What does that mean practically? It means that you should expect to see developers putting on headsets when they start up their development tools – to listen and respond to the voice over IP (VOIP) chatter from peers and delegates spread across the world. Development is now, by default, a global activity (and, as a sidebar, has begun looking like a massively multi-player on-line game (MMOG)).


What’s the net of all this? Architects and developers are growing in value and importance as the price of software declines. Strange side effect, but true. It’s one reason why as a part of this year’s planning activities at Sun, we’ll be making a simple statement: the single most important horizontal market segment for Sun to serve is, in fact…

the developer.

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