This morning I woke up to Bloomberg reporter, Ian King, explaining to Bernie Lo, Bloomberg’s Hong Kong anchor, that IBM is talking to Sun [8] about buying the latter. King pointed to a story on the Wall Street Journal [9], citing the acquisition of Sun by IBM [10] would bolster Big Blue’s “heft on the Internet, in software and in finance and telecommunications markets.”

What a lame excuse! IBM has a significant presence on the Web, just read Lou Gerstner’s autobiography, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance [11]. Most people may not know it but IBM is a software company too. Its been in the Software Magazine 500 Software companies list for several years. Its mainframe-related software business alone should dwarf many pure play software vendors out there. Granted it doesn’t have JAVA, a Sun original IP, but it has its own string of innovations from time immemorial. MySQL is another story though.

Anyway, this is a storage blog so let’s stay focus. Relative to IBM, Sun’s storage business is mostly OEMed from other vendors – LSI [12], Engenio [13] (acquired by LSI), and Dot Hill [14] (lowend to midrange), and Hitachi (enterprise). Its tape is largely an acquisition – StorageTek. So from a hardware perspective, Sun doesn’t have much of a home-grown offering. But who cares? Certainly not Sun customers. They buy Sun for its solution sets, its expertise, and its history in high performance computing workstations and depth of knowledge/experience of the Web. Oh yeah, its Open Software strategy has been at the forefront of media coverage too.

So why would IBM buy Sun? Beats that pants out of me. IBM has a full range of storage (disk, tape and software) offerings – some of it OEMed, some of it as a result of acquisitions, and some of it OEMed. Its 2007-2008 acquisition list [15] is impressive. Diligent Technologies (data deduplication), FilesX (continuous data protection), XIV (SAN and clustering), Arsenal Digital Solutions (data protection), NovusCG (storage management of heterohenous environments), Princeton Softech (data archiving, data classification, data discovery), and Softek Storage (data migration).

So why buy Sun?

Acquisitions usually happen to (1) bring in new technology that the buyer doesn’t have; (2) take out a competitor and grab marketshare; or (3) get the customer base. In this case, I’d speculate it may be a combination of all three but certainly individually, Sun doesn’t have much to offer IBM. Sun’s Open Source Storage Strategy has a long-term potential to throw a spanner on IBM’s storage management software business. Heck it has the potential to mess around with everyone major storage vendor’s software strategy today. ZFS promises to make data software management ‘almost free’.