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AT&T, Sun Flex Joint Marketing Muscle

AT&T and Sun Microsystems, Inc. are teaming up to sell soup-to-nuts managed hosting services, a move that could help both companies carve their way into new industry verticals.

The arrangement combines Sun's enterprise platforms with AT&T managed hosting services, including the telecom giant's new integrated global enterprise management system (iGEMS), which helps clients manage networks and map them to service level agreements.

AT&T has about $200 million and six years of development invested in the iGEMS platform, which was developed by AT&T Labs. It provides end-to-end, predictive and proactive monitoring and management of networks, servers and applications and it's configured to work with a range of Sun's products.

As is the trend with enterprise hosting these days, AT&T is offering a full menu of services, including application performance management, database management, hardware and operating system management and content distribution.

In addition, the managed hosting group covers high availability data and computing services, storage services, managed security and firewall services, global load balancing, and VPN and data networking integration.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday, the companies' sales teams plan to talk up the other's services to customers, alongside value-added resellers (VARs), independent software vendors (ISVs) and application-development firms and systems-integration firms.

Although AT&T and Sun have worked closely for years (Sun has a large client base in the telecommunications sector and AT&T manages Sun's local area networks and wide area networks worldwide), the new arrangement appears to place Sun in what has traditionally been IBM's slot regarding outsourced services.

"AT&T has plenty of legacy accounts and good coverage with IBM," but they are trying to spread out more of their services across the board, said Internet analyst Counse Broders of Atlanta research firm Current Analysis. "IBM has also been pushing its own managed hosting solution," which AT&T "may see as a competitive threat in some way."

If teaming with Sun helps AT&T break new market share where Sun has a strong base, such as financial services, that would fit with AT&T's recent moves to branch out, he added. For example, AT&T has been pitching media customers on its digital media center that specializes in streaming content services.

"Plus, AT&T can tap Sun's expertise, which gives them another channel through which to champion their managed hosting services." The iGEMS portal system, which offers reports on network systems and allows customers to slice and dice their network reports in a variety of ways, is a feature that gives AT&T a distinction compared to other full-service hosting providers, Broders added.

For their part, the companies say they're responding to the needs of businesses that want to reduce the complexity, challenges and risks of operating global enterprise networks. AT&T and Sun said their alliance would focus on the most important customer IT needs: increasing operational efficiencies, improving strategic advantage and raising customer satisfaction.