Sun: iPlanet Needs Work

Company mulls acquistion in J2EE middleware arena

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Sun Microsystems is eyeing an acquisition in the Java 2, Enterprise Edition middleware space to enhance its iPlanet products, company executives said last week.

While solution providers speculated Art Technology Group (ATG) or BEA Systems could fit the bill, Sun CEO Scott McNealy firmly ruled out the latter. "At nine times revenue? I don't think so," he said when asked if Sun might acquire BEA.

>> 'Sun doesn't have any personalization to speak of in their system.' --Bob Lytle, CTO, Centrifusion


At a media briefing here, though, both Sun President and COO Ed Zander and Vice President of Sun ONE Marge Breya said iPlanet's application server technology needs work. "The area we need to strengthen,and we have been doing that,is our app server," Zander said. "There may be more acquisitions [this year in the area of middleware."

Last year, hardware vendors accelerated their investments in the app server market, forcing traditional app server software vendors to seek other ways to make money.

This shift is leaving BEA in a lurch, McNealy said. "IBM's bundling WebSphere for free on their platform, Microsoft is bundling their app server on their platform, we've got iPlanet,now free and clear,to bundle on Solaris on our platform," he said. "So where [does BEA sell to, the Mac?"

But some industry watchers criticized the iPlanet products, saying Sun could buy a vendor with better technology to fill in the gaps.

"Sun with iPlanet still can't get their head around software," said Thomas Murphy, program director at research firm Meta Group.

Bob Lytle, CTO of Chicago integrator Centrifusion, said iPlanet technology lacks personalization features, something ATG excels in. With ATG struggling financially, he said a buyout by a company such as Sun could be a win for both. "Sun doesn't have any personalization to speak of in their system," Lytle said. "There are some big companies that have made a massive ATG investment, and we're looking for someone big to dance with them."

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