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Sun Goes Back to School For Enterprise

Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy is wooing the educational sector with a suite of software productivity packages, in a new twist on a time honored technology industry practice of winning loyalty to its products with cheaper and even free software for students.

Although it is no stranger to academia, Sun has recently invigorated its approach to education customers with a combined front made up of its Java Enterprise System, Java Desktop System, and StarOffice.

Similar to its recent push into government contracts in China and the U.K., Sun is hoping to out-compete rival Microsoft , which pursues a similar tactic by offering low-priced licenses to colleges and universities. As part of its latest incentive, Sun is now planning Windows and HP-UX versions of its Java Enterprise System by the end of the year.

The latest sales pitch came this week at the Worldwide Education and Research Conference (WWERC) in Madrid, Spain, where McNealy touted Sun's software as a perfect fit for primary and secondary education, grid computing, Java technologies, knowledge enterprise, digital campus and High Performance Technical Centers.

"Sun is always working to champion best practices in global education through the development of tools and technologies that give students a learning advantage and education leaders a budget advantage," McNealy said.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker has so far scored a handful of Java Enterprise System contracts, including the Singapore Ministry of Education, Argonne National Laboratory/University of Chicago and Ohlone College in California. The contract includes more than 12,000 students, faculty and staff at Ohlone, and more than 500,000 students and teachers in 365 schools throughout Singapore.

"Sun's Java computing strategy will no doubt thrive in the education market given its affordability, its ease of use and its open standards foundation," Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president of software. "The customers we've garnered to date attest to its ability to transform the education landscape."

The company said it has given free StarOffice licensing to more than 165,000 school districts, higher education institutions and Ministries of Education in 21 countries.

Sun said it has also landed several deals based on its Sun Fire server family running its Sun N1 Grid software. The company highlighted recent customer wins including Delaware Biotechnology Institute at the University of Delaware for its "Beowulf" project, the University of Namur (Notre Dame) in Belgium, the Purdue University, the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas (Austin), and the National Central University in Taiwan.

"Grid computing truly has taken off in the academic community and is beginning to move quickly into the commercial space. Out of 180 companies polled by our research firm, about a quarter of the respondents said they expect grid technology to be either extremely important or very important to their IT infrastructure during the next few years," said Mary Turner, from research firm Summit Strategies.

Sun is also calling for a global Education Learning Community (ELC) to be formed in order to establish a unified infrastructure and set of standards that joins nations and academic institutions together with universal access to curriculum, services and training.

The company said consortium would share resources, leverage best practices and work on collaborative projects, such as grading, testing, enrollment and online curriculum. Sun said its ELC project is currently in the discussion stages and would be pursued further pending the results of the meeting in Madrid, where some 40 Ministries of Education represented from 25 nations were attending. Currently, the European Commission supports corporate partners such as Sun through its cooperation with the eLearning Industry Group (eLIG).