If you watch television broadcast media in America, like nearly everywhere in the world, you’ll find an amazing diversity of content.
In the early morning, you’ll see children’s programming. Then it’s on to morning news, and maybe a talk show or two. Into the afternoon, you’ll see soap operas and daytime drama. Toward dinner time, you’ll get the evening news. Afterwards you’ll see drama or reality TV. Closer to bedtime, you might see something racier.
The point is, the networks know their audiences. There’s not one message or product for everyone, there’s content specific to each demographic. Knowing that parents need to get ready for school or a day at work, networks put kids programming on in the early morning hours. Knowing stay at home parents want a sense of community, the big talk shows start after the workday has begun. Again, there’s no one show for all audiences.
Just as at Sun, there’s no one message for all audiences.
Developers care about bleeding edge innovation, but have little buying power; IT executives have all the buying power, but generally avoid the bleeding edge (unless they’re supercomputer specialists). Developing nations and development authorities care about intellectual property freedom, and the impact of technology on society. Most IT buyers are more worried about shared services, SOX compliance and financial return. Same technologies, perhaps at differing stages of evolution, but wildly differing audiences.
So with that in mind, I’ll tell you about a very uncomfortable customer presentation I attended not too long ago. It was with a highly technical government customer, one focused on their nation’s security. They wanted to know about our open source strategy.
What made it uncomfortable was the image on the title page of the presentation – presented by a new employee, the title page was unmodified from when the presentation was delivered to a conference examining the impact of technology on developing nations. It featured this image:
In its original form, the presentation made a simple point – the digital divide is the development divide. Those without access can’t participate in the opportunity, whether economic, social, political or academic. And free and open source software was lowering the barriers to access and adoption.
But this particular customer wasn’t interested in the network as a social utility – they wanted to know about open source access to LDOMs and NFS over RDMA (that is, not the plight of those without network access).
Now, from inside Sun, as well as outside, I get a lot of feedback about eco-responsibility, or the Participation Age, or bridging the digital divide – some love that we talk about the issues, some think it’s a total distraction. “Why don’t you just focus on revenue?” Here’s why.
Just like the broadcast networks I mentioned above, Sun must serve a diversity of audiences. There is no one message for CIO’s that works for development authorities and the open source community. CIO’s care about utilization and shared services. Developers want to know where we stand on the environment, and on the next technology leap. Performance wonks want to know about memory bandwidth and RDMA. Shareholders want to know about revenue growth and margin expansion.
If we go after one audience at the expense of the others, we lose in the long run.
Our (growing) challenge has been to shape our message for a technically and culturally diverse audience. As the network becomes a ubiquitous utility, not just for banks, but for teenagers, developing nations and creative artists, there’s no one message that will span all audiences and nationalities. One person’s eco-responsible server is another startup’s lowered utility bill, is another datacenter’s real estate consolidation – is another country’s ability to redirect development dollars to healthcare, that would’ve gone to powerplants.
Every audience, like every nation, has a different objective. But every audience, like every nation, represents opportunity to Sun.
And even at the risk of a colliding message from a new employee, we’re not interested in letting any of it pass us by. It’s far too valuable an opportunity.