Sun CEO Schwartz: Giving Something To Startups - InformationWeek

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5/4/2008
03:41 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Sun CEO Schwartz: Giving Something To Startups

Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz is a geek at heart. Maybe the ponytail gives it away, or maybe it's the jabs he takes at his handlers (the bomb-sniffing dogs roaming Startup Camp were interesting), or that he has one of the Internet's most popular blogs, but now he needs to grind his way through the discomfort of

Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz is a geek at heart. Maybe the ponytail gives it away, or maybe it's the jabs he takes at his handlers (the bomb-sniffing dogs roaming Startup Camp were interesting), or that he has one of the Internet's most popular blogs, but now he needs to grind his way through the discomfort of poor quarterly financial results and 2,500 layoffs. He faced the public challenge here at Startup Camp, by talking about what Sun is and hinting at some announcements for tomorrow.Schwartz' purpose in attending Startup Camp today in San Francisco was to talk about the culture of startups. Sun acquired his company, Lighthouse Design, about 12 years ago, so he knows plenty about being a startup, but Sun has made an aggressive commitment to supporting startups these days. Schwartz asked the crowd of startups how many were using an off-the-shelf, for-fee database and nary a hand went up. Most use Sun's (acquired) free MySQL. That's because most companies just starting out want to focus on what they do differently, rather than spending money on infrastructure . . . especially when they don't need to. Schwartz pointed to wonder kids like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who built Facebook on MySQL, but the examples are plenty.

Schwartz also talked at great length about what Sun is becoming, giving the example of his niece, who, along with her friends, sees the Java logo on their phones and thinks Sun means "my game is about to start." But then there is the high-performance computing community who knows Sun for Lustre. There is Sun, the company helping Fortune 1000 companies build data centers, and Sun, the company who allegedly will announce tomorrow that it will partner with Amazon on a cloud computing initiative.

Who is Sun? Depends on the community you ask. Here, Schwartz received a very warm applause, and tons of questions picking away at what it's going to do in cloud. And Schwartz made no bones about its support of startups. It knows it needs to give something away now for a payoff down the road. Small companies become big, Web startups need computing power in their own data centers or in the cloud, and if Sun can support them now the company has a greater likelihood of getting them as a customer later.

When asked how he feels about having to lay off up to 2,500 people, Schwartz said it was the toughest part of his job. Perhaps an understatement for most of us, but his inquisitor, Om Malik, claimed to be a capitalist and took this as just another part of running a business. Schwartz retorted, saying "we are a company whose assets go home every night .... I don't think that's how you build lasting cultures. I think it's how you build sweatshops."

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