Agencies want safe apps, period

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Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's Strategy Skipper

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Jonathan Schwartz says he hopes the government keeps its finger on the security hot button, which he called a primary feature of his company's servers, applications and operating environments.

He rejected the notion that Sun doles out too much free software and is too niche-oriented, stunting its chances for survival. Instead, the Sun executive vice president for software argued that the company's longtime emphasis on scale and security'for everything from cell phones to data centers'will keep it flourishing in the federal market.

Schwartz joined the Sun team in 1996 when it acquired Lighthouse Design Ltd., where he was chief executive officer. Before running Lighthouse Design, he worked as a financial services consultant with multinational McKinsey & Co. Inc.'his first job after receiving bachelor's degrees in both economics and mathematics from Wesleyan University.

At Sun, Schwartz went from managing the company's development tools and Java product marketing to drafting its long-range corporate strategies.

At the time, as chief strategy officer, he oversaw Sun's mergers and acquisitions, venture capital portfolio and strategic initiatives, including the Liberty Alliance, an industry coalition that promotes network identity standards.

GCN associate editor Vandana Sinha interviewed Schwartz by telephone.

GCN: What are the basic strategies you're setting for Sun Microsystems Inc.?

SCHWARTZ: One is enabling fundamental network services, everything from Web applications and portals to e-mail and calendars, as well as identity and authentication. Secondarily, as evidenced by the Common Access Cards that military personnel carry, we're delivering military-grade security for all these information systems.

GCN: How much of a role does software play in your revenue structure, especially free software such as StarOffice?

SCHWARTZ: Very little of the software portfolio is distributed freely. Java, as a programming environment, is strategic for Sun because it enables a sea of devices and systems to connect to the Internet. That generates demand for the infrastructure we deliver, which includes a high-scale directory server running on a high-end Sun system.

Software is a multibillion-dollar business for Sun. And just as you can't run hardware without software, you can't run software without hardware.

GCN: Which of your products is hottest in the federal government?

SCHWARTZ: Trusted Solaris and, I think, our directory server, which is used for authentication. Our portal server is used for government portals that are created internally. And the application server'those are probably the biggest.

We're beginning to move into e-mail as our customers move off Microsoft Exchange.

We're also beginning a complete Linux desktop, called Project Mad Hatter, that is 100 percent Microsoft-interoperable and costs about a tenth as much.

Right now, we're focusing on logistics and transaction workers'administration more than knowledge workers. We're not likely to go replace the secretary of Defense's desktop environment, but it's highly likely that the 20,000 to 50,000 people working in logistics administration will be running a non-Microsoft desktop in the next few years.

On the server side, we're going to continue driving Solaris and Trusted Solaris onto the Intel Corp. architecture. And that's true for the whole Sun software stack. Where we differentiate ourselves from IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. is that both of them are at the end of licensing their Unix investment and are trying to put all their energy behind Linux.

Our belief is that what customers care about on the server is price-performance and security. So we're going to focus on preserving that investment and expanding the value users get out of those investments by putting them on the Intel architecture. Again, that's in contrast with HP and IBM, neither of which makes its software available on Intel. They're asking everyone to rewrite everything to Linux, which we think is a bit backward.

GCN: How accepting is the government of open-source applications?

SCHWARTZ: There are two ways of looking at open-source. Open-source doesn't really speak to the quality of a product. It speaks to the development process used to build it. At the end of the day, the government, like any other customer, cares about quality and security, and whether the product is open-source or not really doesn't matter.

Every customer is open to higher-quality, higher-security software, whether it's open-source or not, so long as the software being delivered hasn't been built illicitly and doesn't use stolen intellectual property.

GCN: Describe the security in Sun products.

SCHWARTZ: It depends on the application. We built security into Trusted Solaris 10 years ago. By comparison with Microsoft Corp. or some other competitors, we've got a big leg up. I think open-source is also occasionally an economic issue.

There's a lot of euphoria about, 'Well, if it's cheaper, then I'm going to use it.' But it actually depends on what you want to do. If you want to run a portal to show photos of people in your office, you can do that with a different set of technologies than you would use to run a war.

I don't think any member of the American military or anyone in Congress cares whether a product is open-source or not. They care whether it works securely. It's like asking whether products built in New York City are going to play a bigger role than products built in California.

What matters is whether the product works and whether it demonstrates military-grade security. If so, it will be used. Whether it was built using open-source will be totally secondary.

GCN: What's your view about Microsoft's position on open-source?

SCHWARTZ: I don't think Microsoft is worried about open-source at all. I think what they're quite worried about is less-expensive, more-secure software. If an open-source project costs $10,000 per desktop, Microsoft wouldn't worry. It's because Mad Hatter is $50 per desktop and will be integrated with the government's Common Access Card that Microsoft is beginning to worry.

GCN: What's your perception of Linux penetration versus Microsoft Windows XP expansion in the federal government?

SCHWARTZ: Microsoft has the edge because they have locked up the way users use software. There is an expense involved in retraining someone to move off Microsoft.

That's the No. 1 edge they have. The No. 2 edge is that because they won't disclose the protocols or file formats of their products, they make it difficult for other vendors' products to interoperate. That's why I testified against Microsoft in the Justice Department's antitrust case.

I believe Sun has an edge where the application requirements are more focused on the Web, office productivity and e-mail'where security matters literally down to the individual.

GCN: What challenges do you face in marketing open-source products to agencies?

SCHWARTZ: The biggest challenge is that, thus far, the federal government hasn't been really effective in causing Microsoft to open up protocols and file formats. I think that's beginning to anger a lot of government users, in part because they believe their information belongs to them, not to Microsoft.

GCN: The government is going to boost IT spending by 17 percent, yet analysts don't see an IT rebound yet. As a vendor, do you think funding is coming through?

SCHWARTZ: We're beginning to see investments today in products such as our directory and identity system. Again, it's been the focus on security that's driven those investments.

We expect to be one of the leading providers of high-scale, high-security systems to the government. We believe money should be spent on scale and security, and that's exactly where we're going to keep going.


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