% fortune -ae paul murphy

Sun's storage move

Last week Sun announced an organizational change putting the storage side of the business in the same shed with servers. Lots of people responded with lots of opinion on this, much of it negative - and most of the thought through stuff came from people who are certain that the StorageTek purchase was a mistake and want Sun to admit it.

Consider, for example, this comment to Schwartz's discussion of the change in a blog entry linked as "Growing in Storage" but headlined as "All the Wood Behind One Arrow."

Yeah, McNealy used to use that same old tired cliche..."all the wood behind one arrow". I swear he used it in every quarterly conference call one year. Must be ingrained in the Sun culture. Which of course, doesn't mean it isn't a tired old cliche.

Look, storage is just not your strong suit. Get over it. Buying StorageTek was dumb. Admit it. Shifting the deck chairs is not going to change the ship's direction. If your storage division was going gangbusters, you would be trumpeting it, not hiding it in some other group. Your rebadged storage offerings are about as impressive as HP's rebadged storage offerings. Perhaps because they're mostly the same stuff with different paint jobs.

Not impressed...there's more to being CEO than just plastering over the cracks with gloss, son.

Posted by Tired Of Cliches on October 01, 2007 at 03:13 PM PDT

McNealy, of course, was talking about Sun's decision to put all its efforts behind SPARC - phasing out both its Motorola and Intel product lines. Since Schwartz cannot possibly have let this slip by unintentionally, I'm optimistic that its use here signals exactly what it did before: a strong commitment to technical leadership, now in the form of SPARC based CMT/SMP computing.

SPARC aside, however, the issue with StorageTek is simple: Sun acquired the company for its people and the access those people have to IBM's mainframe customer base, but it hasn't worked out that way.

At the culture level the strategy failed because when you put data processing and Unix sales people in the same room you don't get synergy - you get immediate mutual contempt and ultimately guerila warfare: three re-orgs so far, charges of compensation abuse, organizational nepotism, and territorial conflict, all accompanied by lots of the throwing up of hands and leaving of the company for bluer pastures.

This has had the greatest effects on the disk side of the business where StorageTek's typical customer, and therefore product, has long been a decade or more behind the industry - creating an expectations gap that simply couldn't be crossed by either side and leaving that part of StorageTek's sales machine a floundering target for repeated re-orgs and personnel change.

Little of this happened on the tape side of the business. There weaknesses in Sun's product line led Sun's people to see the StorageTek acquisition as positive, StorageTek's traditional posture as a little company humbly filling holes in IBM's tape automation offerings worked equally well with Sun's organization, and rapid market growth has combined with tape's inherent lack of sex appeal to mostly keep those assets off the trading table in middle and upper management meetings.

Hence this latest re-org: the first one to clearly separate winners from losers while recognizing the reality that artificially over pricing products like the "thumper" line by 50% or more just to give the ex-StorageTek people a fighting change at meeting their quotas benefits IBM and EMC far more than it does Sun.

So, bottom line? what this re-org does is give Sun's server side people the freedom to adapt fixed storage to customer needs while holding out growth and career opportunities for the success stories on the removable media side of the storage business.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.