Accelerating the Redshift

Last year, Greg Papadopoulos used the word “Redshift” to describe a new model for how Sun looks at the world of computing. Since that time, this word has helped to crystallize how we view view our products, customers and market opportunities.

When Greg refers to the Redshift (a term that refers to the frequency of light waves in an expanding universe), he is describing a way of segregating customer applications into two broad categories. The first is the group of applications for which desired efficiency gains and decreases in cost are satisfied by standard increases in CPU processing power. The second are those applications that require compute resources that are expanding at a rate greater than Moore’s Law. This latter set of applications is what we refer to as the Redshift. Many newly formed and rapidly growing companies have business models based entirely on a single application of this type (think of YouTube or Facebook). For these customers power and scale are the primary areas of focus – not CPU speed. As result, the IT industry is increasing its focus on multi-threading, utility computing, virtualization and distributed storage.

Not surprisingly, given the velocity of their growth and the fact that many of them are true “start-ups”, a large percentage of Redshift customers rely heavily (if not exclusively) on open source applications. One of most broadly deployed is the MySQL database. Founded in 2001, MySQL has become an icon in the open source world – it’s the “M” in “ LAMP“. It’s also the database of choice for some of the world’s best known Redshift customers – and traditional companies as well.

And, this morning, we announced that we are acquiring MySQL.

Jonathan provides more insight into why we are so excited about this acquisition here. Reflective of this excitement is the speed and ease with which we arrived at today’s announcement. For those of you who do the M&A thing for a living, this one has gone amazingly well. It seemed as if every due diligence meeting ended with an excited discussion of the potential resulting from this combination as well as opportunities we hadn’t previously known existed. This positive theme also came through in the negotiations. It also helped that each company was represented by experienced counsel who understand our respective businesses and not just the technical ins and outs of reps and warranties. So to Marty and Richard – thanks.

Our appreciation (and empathy) as well to MySQL’s GC, Clint Smith, and his team. Earlier in my career, I had the experience of having my company acquired by a much larger public company. Trying to respond to the diligence requests, negotiate the definitive agreement, and support normal business operations with limited resources and in an environment of great uncertainty… well, it was a challenge. So again to you and the rest of the MySQL team – “thanks”. We are really looking forward to having you join us.

And, finally, a big thank you to all of the Sun team who worked the late nights, weekends and holidays to get us to this point. I am constantly in awe of what you are able to accomplish.

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A Different “P2P”

An obvious test of whether something is a good idea is to look at who is supporting it. When the answer is a diverse set of competitors, you know it’s an idea who’s time has come. The Peer to Patent Project (“P2P”) is a good example. Created by the NY School of Law in conjunction with the USPTO, this pilot initiative seeks to improve the quality of patents by opening up the patent review process to the public.

Currently, the USPTO is facing a backlog of nearly 800,000 pending patent applications. Given this number, patent examiners have limited time to undertake a thorough search of prior art to determine whether a claimed invention is truly “novel” . The result is an increase in the issuance of poor quality patents, which leads to an increase in litigation challenges and requests for re-examination.

Launched in June 2007, P2P attempts to tackle this problem through a community based review system. Participating inventors register and make applications publicly available on an open discussion forum. The public may then review each application and provide examples of prior art for consideration. These are then rated by relevance allowing the patent examiner to more efficiently focus on potential prior art that is most significant to an application.

Sun is an active supporter of P2P. The program’s focus on patent quality (versus quantity) is consistent with how we make intellectual property investments. To this end, as part of P2P we have submitted applications in key areas such as “transactional memory” (an important component of Sun’s chip multi-threading architecture), security and cryptography. In addition, we are encouraging our distinguished engineers and chief technologists to participate as peer reviewers for P2P. We also hope to provide funding support for P2P in the future.

Why have so many competing companies agreed to participate and test their innovation publicly? One reason is that the USPTO provides the benefit of an expedited review process to P2P participants. However, the more important explanation is that many companies believe that the current patent system has devolved from the intent of it’s founders. And, it is to the benefit of all of us to see it improved.

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Building Leaders

A constant focus of our executive team is on building leaders. I would venture to say that we discuss this topic more frequently than any other and it’s something all of us embrace. For me, Ralph Nader said it best: “I start from the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders than followers.” This has been a frequent mental refrain for me since my Achilles tendon ruptured a few weeks ago. I’d like to have a more dramatic story about how it happened, but the true reason is a combination of genetics and a life-long aversion to any form of stretching. These things always happen at the most inopportune times and this was no different. In the week ahead, we had our Annual Stockholder meeting, a full day executive planning session and I was to host a multi-day department “All Hands” training meeting.

I should have been incredibly stressed as I limped over to my administrator’s office to reschedule meetings before departing to the hospital. Instead, I was fairly relaxed. I knew that we have built a solid team of leaders who would very ably handle things in my absence. And, that’s what happened. One of our corporate attorneys quickly made the changes necessary so that our CFO could run the stockholder meeting (thanks again, Mike). And others prepared for the department meeting and made decisions on other items on which I was focused at the time.

A few days after surgery, I was able to get back into the office on crutches and attend part of our department meeting. I hobbled (I would kill for a Segway right now) between buildings and attended many of the training sessions held by each legal team. (As an aside, I realized that we packed a bit too much into the schedule when I noticed that one of the groups had replaced water and soft drinks with Red Bull in its session.)

In one of the meetings, the members of our Employment Law group shared fascinating insights on a recent litigation; in another, I watched lawyers from our patent team as they engaged with outside counsel about ways in which to increase the quality (already high) of our patent filings. I also attended trainings on antitrust law and open source licensing and met with many people in the department from around the world. I was in constant awe of the level of talent surrounding me in every room. To be candid, at times I was intimidated by the passion, creativity and technical knowledge of our legal team. I just had to keep reminding myself that as Mr. Nader said – my job is to build leaders.

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Contributor Agreement

Earlier this year, I read a post to one of Jonathan’s blogs in which the author complained vigorously about the complexity of Sun’s Contributor Agreement. I responded not with an email or a blog, but rather by pounding my head repeatedly and forcefully against my desk.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area, contributor agreements are used by most open source companies and communities to set forth the terms under which contributions can be made to an open source project. Sun’s Contributor Agreement, for example, is the contractual vehicle for contributions to Sun open source projects like OpenSolaris, OpenJDK and Glassfish.

Now the reason I was banging my head was because if there is one agreement that should be a model of simplicity and clarity, it should be our Contributor Agreement. After all, we are asking developers around the world (most without formal legal training) to contribute their time, energy and intellect to open source projects like those mentioned above. The least we can do in exchange is to provide contracts that clearly describe the terms of our relationship. In the hope of forestalling a nasty headache, I took a look at our Contributor Agreement and immediately I agreed with the author of the post. The agreement was wordy and needlessly complicated. So, I asked one of our team to revise it.

Now, a few months later, we’ve released the redrafted Sun Contributor Agreement. The process took longer than I had hoped, but much of the time was spent soliciting feedback from the open source community about our proposed changes. And, in the end, the revised agreement is substantially improved from its predecessor. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

My only regret is that the person who originally posted the comment to Jonathan’s blog did so anonymously. I would have liked to have sent him or her a note expressing what I’ll now say here: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ll do better in the future.”

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Virtual Law

I have a fascinating job. Given the international scope of our company and the innovation we generate, there’s no shortage of unique issues I encounter every day. But, I think Marty Roberts just may have me beat in this area. He’s the new GC at Linden Lab the company behind Second Life. For those who are unfamiliar with Second Life, here’s a video that explains it.

Many “real world” companies have been using Second Life to open virtual store fronts, for marketing outreach or as an additional form of online education. Sun is one of these. After all, a virtual world is another form of network-enabled community. Helping to build these communities is at the core of what we do.

So far, we’ve had a positive experience with Second Life and have continued to use it as a forum for major announcements. And, last week, I was discussing with someone on my team how we might use Second Life for employee training. While these activities were once novel, they are becoming more accepted as traditional business models transition to the Internet. But, for attorneys, the virtual world remains unexplored. Here are just a few recent examples of what Mr. Robbins has had to deal with in his new job.

A case was recently filed against Second Life in a “real” courtroom in Pennsylvania. The dispute involves ownership of virtual property. While the ultimate issue may turn out to be a routine contract matter, it will still be interesting to watch.

Another litigation has been brought between two members of Second Life. In this case the claim is for copyright infringement in connection with virtual toys for adult entertainment.

And most recently, it appears that IBM employees in Italy held a strike against their employer in Second Life. Trying to determine what, if any, labor laws apply in connection with a virtual protest by employees will doubtlessly keep some attorney very busy.

Marty, I’m sure you have many more fascinating stories. I’d love to hear them. If you ever have time for a beer (a real one), I’m buying.

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The NetApp Litigation (continued)

Today, we filed a second complaint against NetApp for infringement of six additional patents and other related claims. Although it may appear a separate case, it is in reality, part of the same litigation originally brought by NetApp in Eastern Texas to impede the adoption of ZFS. There are many theories as to why NetApp chose this particular venue, but because they sued Sun in that location we were forced to respond there. And, that is what we did last Thursday.

The case we filed today is in the Northern District of California. While we dislike the fact that we are forced to litigate this matter at all, we believe California is a more appropriate forum for any dispute between Sun and NetApp. Why? For starters, our companies are headquartered less than 10 miles apart here in Silicon Valley. All of the key witnesses in this case are located here, as are our attorneys. The same for most of the documentary evidence. And, almost all of the technology in dispute was developed here as well.

So to us, it makes more sense in terms of efficiency and economy, that this case be litigated here. With this in mind, we will be bringing a motion before the court in California asking that the case filed in Texas be consolidated with the case filed by Sun today for trial here in the Bay Area. Bottom line, this move would be in the best interest of all parties involved…especially our respective shareholders. We hope that NetApp agrees.

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The NetApp Litigation

The shift from “proprietary” to “open” business models continues to accelerate. Nowhere is this more apparent than with software. Sun went through this transition several years ago. It was a difficult undertaking (a serious understatement). However, we saw the direction of the industry and committed the company to the transformation. It’s probably one of the most important and positive decisions we’ve ever made. Unfortunately, for some companies this same course remains unthinkable.

Last month, Network Appliance (NetApp) sued Sun alleging that Sun’s ZFS technology infringed NetApp patents. Today we filed our response. A PDF copy can be found here.

We had no notice of NetApp’s intent to bring this litigation and found it strange that they chose this course so unexpectedly. We were also surprised by NetApp’s attempt to impede the adoption of ZFS. Obviously, they have business reasons why they believe they need to so so; however, ZFS was announced over three years ago. It has been in the open source community since November, 2005. So, why now?

We invest an enormous amount of money on innovation – on average 15% of revenue. As part of this, we also invest in various intellectual property protections for this innovation, including patents, copyrights and trademarks. This investment allows us the flexibility to protect ourselves and others. In this case, we intend to use our very broad and extensive patent portfolio to protect the open source community that has embraced ZFS and made it so successful.

I’ve previously shared my perspective on litigation. The points I made then apply equally to this case, including that a non-judicial resolution is always preferable. To this end, previous to filing our response, I spoke to my counterpart at NetApp. We had a very polite and engaged discussion about what lay ahead for both companies. However, in the end, we were not able to see a path to resolution.

We have reviewed the NetApp claims against ZFS and we believe them to be without merit. (To those of you who have already been sending us prior art – “thank you”. To those of you who would like to lend your support, please go here.)

In our response we address not only the case brought by NetApp, but we have also brought our own claims against the entirety of their product line and are seeking both damages and injunctive relief. It’s a responsive action we take not because we want to, but rather because we are forced to. That said, we would like to use this litigation not only to protect, but to promote innovation as well. To this end, we have announced that we will be donating a portion of whatever Sun recovers to organizations supporting the open source community.

It is disappointing that we have to turn to litigation. But, it’s clear that NetApp views the open source world much differently than Sun. We’ve made the transition – they can’t contemplate it.

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