Sun CEO: Thin is In (with VoIP)

SAN FRANCISCO — With the PC market taking a nosedive in the last few years, Sun Microsystems is targeting its thin client strategy for more than just the office or the campus.

CEO Scott McNealy said Monday his Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is testing out using various networking and packeting methods that will allow workers to access their data remotely via commercial carriers like AT&T or SBC . McNealy says the goal is to move to a more the network-centric mantra he’s been chanting for 20 years and cut out major costs.

“We believe in thin clients. Buying third party software products is so last millennium,” McNealy said to attendees at the annual Software & Information Industry Association conference here.

McNealy said his company runs thousands of “quiet” Sun Ray terminals at its various campuses around the Silicon Valley. The company’s existing SunForum platform is a server-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software that connects to a corporate PBX and routes calls to and from Sun Ray users over the LAN. But the software has only been able to distribute a limited amount of information outside the walls of a Sun campus.

Sun’s czar said his firm is currently working on allowing for in-house roaming across North America by the end of the year and accessibility through standard commercial networks soon after.

“When I put my card in [the thin client], immediately it’s ‘Channel Scott’. That gives me great mobility with security,” McNealy said. We’re saving $2 to $3-million in energy costs alone. It’s great for us too if you figure the average PC costs between $800 and 1,500 per move. Ours are zero.

“The downturn has been best thing that happened. Has anybody seen an ROI on a PC upgrade?” he queried.

Sun is also beefing up its software’s ability to run more phone-like applications. McNealy said the idea is to get rid of hardwired phones and use the voice functions through the clients.

“The merger of voice and wireless and computing is happening big time,” McNealy said. “We told our developers to contemplate the new loads and add in VoIP and streaming broadband to see how it would work.”

As part of its mobility charge of the last few months, the network computer maker has been working more publicly on its Web services strategy with its N1 and Project Orion leading the headlines. But McNealy says Sun’s throughput computing initiative is also critical to the company’s networking strategy.

With Sun’s focus on including software in its hardware and networking products, McNealy says there is not much use left for middleware.

“I believe you are going to see consolidation in the middleware,” he said. “From an engineering and licensing perspective, we’re trying to integrate our middleware. I like to think of it as ‘metal or plastic wrapped’ software that comes with the server and you only have to update once a quarter. I mean, think about how much of your company’s business is available on the browser. The stumbling block had been the user interface, but we’ve been able to address that with Mad Hatter and Star Office 6.1. But people still ride horses.”

McNealy said in vertical application environments, 90 to 95 percent is software that can be handled on the network and not through silos of server farms.

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