It’s been a very busy second quarter to the fiscal year, and I’ll apologize up front for falling behind on my posting duties. When you write a blog, you welcome onto your shoulder an inner editor, or in my case, an outer editor in the form of a general counsel whose last missive to me was titled, “you need to write a blog.” Thanks, Mike.
I’ve been spending a ton of time with customers and independent software vendors – especially those that blur the lines (software as a service (SAAS) companies). We held an event a few weeks ago to which we invited a broad spectrum of such customers, one room filled with CTO’s from some of the world’s largest on-line companies (whose brands nearly everyone would recognize – the internet as a social phenomena is in full swing); the other filled with CIO’s – from the new world, as well as more traditional companies (banks, telcos, technology and retail companies).
Not all the attendees were customers (that is, some came just to hear what we were up to), and they came from China, Japan, across Europe and North America. Budgets ranged from $10,000 to billions. But all of the attendees were focused on using IT as a competitive advantage (why else would you spend two days with us, I suppose).
A lot of the insights were confidential, but here were a few items of interest…
- No CIO wore a baseball cap. The same was not true of the CTO sessions.
- The youngest company in the CTO session was started last year.
- The fastest grower (in terms of datacenter infrastructure spending) was growing 100% per month.
- The cost of people and change dominated the CIO room – not capital assets or power.
- The cost of storage and bandwidth dominated the room filled with web companies.
- Not a single company in the CTO room paid for software. Many knew Sun exclusively from our work in the open source or academic arena – validating free communities as a vehicle to meet new opportunities, before they join the Fortune 100.
- In contrast, not a single company in the CIO room allowed free software without a commercial support contract. Not one. Validating the notion that for more mature/diverse companies, the cost of downtime dwarfs the cost of a support contract.
- The CTO’s in the web companies wanted innovation at an accelerating pace.
- The CIO’s (broadly) wanted innovation to slow down long enough for them to manage and exploit it.
Virtualization and open source storage were big topics in both rooms – almost everyone was aware of what we’ve been up to with ZFS (courtesy of one of our competitors). If you’re technically inclined, you can read about our approach to free, multi-platform virtualization in this whitepaper. There is a general sense the prices of both storage and virtualization will be falling in the next 12 months. We helped lend confidence to that thought.
- The CTO’s said we were too hard to do business with, but they appreciated the ease with which our software could be freely downloaded.
- The CIO’s praised us for being so easy to do business with, and one groused about the ease with which his developers can bring our software into his network.
This contrast made many Sun attendees want to pull their hair out (but customers obviously buy in very different ways, and we’re working hard to adapt our systems and processes for both).
Almost all the CIO’s were in the midst of new datacenter buildouts (due to insufficient power density for many, lack of space for others). Growth was a big issue for everyone, but in remarkably differing ways – one CTO had 9,000 systems, growing 5% per week – and storage growing even more rapidly… just to put that in context, that’s a social networking company, not a Fortune 500 bank.
All the CIO’s wanted to drive toward uniformity in their datacenters (“just like Southwest Airlines” – it’s cheaper and easier to manage an airline if all you fly are Boeing 737’s – diversity and variation is very expensive, especially at scale). Most of the CIO’s were struggling to free the resources necessary to drive a singular platform standard. Conversely, the CTO’s all had mandatory platform standards – with no variation permitted without explicit approval. Then again, the web companies mostly had the luxury of being less than 10 years old.
- The youngest company in attendance was less than a year old.
- The oldest company in attendance was more than 100 years old. The CIO of the latter (who’s quite a bit younger than 100) claimed he was still running processes from the 1800’s. He wasn’t smiling when he said that. We got a round of applause for working with IBM to port OpenSolaris to System Z mainframes.
Which is all to say… I feel quite good about how we’re prioritizing our investments, for CIO’s and CTO’s, alike. Around communities, efficiency, security, automation – and most importantly, innovation to address ever increasing scale. In everything we do, hardware, software, developer tools, all. Customer feedback around our technology roadmaps was, almost uniformly, “why can’t we have that sooner?” Which is a great buying sign.
But the most important conclusion was this: there is no longer a uniform definition of “customer” at Sun. From developer to startup, mammoth messaging service to 100 year old financial institution, customers, and their requirements, are as diverse as the internet, itself.
Which is both the challenge and the opportunity.