–Bhaskar
Pramanik,
Managing Director, Sun Microsystems India.

After maintaining a low profile in the country for
nearly three years, Sun Microsystems is now ready to take on the Indian market with more
external show of aggression. The first indication of this came in the form of Bhaskar
Pramanik
who was induced away from DEIL to take on the mantle as MD, Sun India.
Here, in an interview with Latha Kuttappan and Sindhu Raj of
DATAQUEST, Pramanik, who had just returned from a tour of the country, speaks of Sun’s
plans in India and the shape of things to come. Excerpts:

We are hearing about Sun’s change
of strategy in the wake of its recent aggressive marketing. Would it be different from
what it was in the last couple of years?

There will not be any major difference. The overall strategies are going to remain the
same-what is going to change is perhaps the intensity and the scale of deployment. The
broad strategies would be one, to leverage upon setting up support infrastructure and,
second would be major investments in market growth. We will be investing inincreasing our
brand awareness, in setting up technology centers with our partners, and in the vertical
segments where we have been doing well worldwide.

Sun has a major role in the
vertical segments. But if one talks of manufacturing or banking, one would immediately
think of IBM or Digital, but not Sun. Will we see any change there?

Absolutely. I think we have now reached a stage where we are now no longer just a desktop
player. We are now starting to have a major impact in terms of the vertical segments. In
fact, if you would look at the IDC figures, we would be the number one in the
manufacturing industry and not IBM. But yes, comparatively, it is not too well known. And
second, the difference between IBM, Digital, and us would be we offer a suite that is a
combination of the best-of-breed solutions and that has been Sun’s major advantage
worldwide. And from that perspective, the problem in India is not that we have not done
well, but I think we have done well in certain segments like in the financial and telecom
segments, not to forget education. But the area where we need to get the message across to
the customers is the manufacturing industry. That way, we will spend a lot more time,
effort, and energy in strengthening this segment.

Sun launched a new chip that was
supposed to take on Intel and high-end server, which meant that you could bring the power
of a workstation to a desktop….

That is Darwin, a range of workstations for the low-end workstation market, which Intel
calls the high-end of their desktop market. What we are offering with Darwin is
flexibility, ease of operation, and an ability to run the personal productivity
applications plus graphical features in addition to work interoperability and management
capabilities. Now, Intel can’t beat us in this marketplace.

When it comes to serious CAD
applications and visualization, not many people would go in for Intel since it does not
have the resolution or the power.

The high-end desktops will percolate into the low-end workstation market. What we have
done is that we dominate today the high-end of the workstations market and with the
introduction of Darwin, we are going to ensure that we do not lose out on the low-end.
From what IDC has to say about the high-end workstation market, it is 3000 units ayear and
if we look at the low-end, the kind of market that Darwin addresses is about 1500 units a
year, totalling to an addressable market of 4500 units for us. This is the time of the
year for us to go and grab marketshare.

It seems suddenly there is a burst
of activity for Sun. And on the other side is SGI which has given up its right on its
operating systems. What is the indication of all this? You have an Intel…you have a
Merced…Alpha is at the mercy of Intel…if Intel says they won’t manufacture Alpha then
Merced takes over. And, now suddenly, you have offshoots of SPARC. Do you think Sun can
sustain it for long?

First of all, I personally do not believe anyone can contemplate a world with just one
hardware platform and one operating system. Second, there are definitely areas which will
never switch to NT. Even in India, I think the RISC-Unix market is
still going to be bigger than the high-end PC server market. Coming to Merced and SPARC,
surely the Merced is going to be adopted by Compaq, HP, and Digital. Basically, all of
them will have to figure it out amongst themselves as to how they are going to position
each one of them, as they will all be me-too products-each one of them have a Unix
variant. Therefore, all these companies will finally land themselves in a situation where
they will sell NT and their Unix will die a natural death. Now is the time for us to go
and win the NT battle. My strong belief is that customers, in the new paradigm of network
computing, will not even bother about what operating system they areon. Their decision
will be based on issues such as scalability, reliability, and price performance. The
decision is going to be determined by the overall architecture and the applications.
Operating systems will become increasingly less relevant as we move into thefuture. I
think the concept of network computing is more important than what operating system it
runs on.

One of the reasons why people have
been shifting to NT is because there are a lot of people trained on NT as against people
trained on Unix. Even though every one admits that Unix is the best thing that is going
around and….

I think there is a flaw in this argument. Today, in India, there are more Unix people than
there are NT people. When you see Windows 95, you think you have got an NT expert. NT is
very different from Windows 95. NT is the flakiest of operating systems and unless you are
trained on using it, you won’t be able to handle it. The number of people who are familiar
with managing an enterprise NT are very few.

Would you then be a part of
training a whole generation of people in Unix?

I don’t think so. Most of the education institutes are already providing Unix training.
What we are going to do is spend more time on getting people trained in Java. When an
undergraduate enters Stanford University, the programming language he learns is Pascal and
C++. However, from this year onward, Stanford has made it mandatory to learn Java. We
would like to see all premier institutes of technology doing that, and in fact I think
most of the IITs are already planning to do that.

But C++ still continues to be the
most popular language….

Yes. If you are going to be doing maintenance of somebody else’s IP (Intellectual
Property), then yes. With Java, you have the opportunity to create applications for the
future. With C++, you are not doing anything new. From whatever I have seen in India, in
the last three months, I cannot think of any software developer who does not have a team
of people focused on developing applications in Java.

What is the kind of push being
given to Java?

We are going to spend a lot of money in pushing Java. In fact, we are cutting this whole
Java infrastructure together-which is the Java Competency Center that we have invested in
with the Department of Electronics. Besides, there is the Java Solution Center that we are
creating for the vertical and the horizontal markets; then we have Java software
developers who need support to help them move the applications, plus the Java authorized
training centers which will be focussed on providing trained Java people.

What will be the impact of all this
going to be for Sun and for India?

I think I have two mandates-one, to grow the Indian market, and two, to try and see how we
can use Indian software resources to really push Java. Given all the software resources
that we have, moving them that much toward Java will give them the opportunity to actually
build IP out of India.

Is this why you have decided to set
up a subsidiary?

India will surely be among the top five countries that any MNC will look at and the same
applies to Sun too. And so, we have to make an investment and a timetable accordingly. In
the case of Sun, we are looking at India as a huge opportunity to push Java. We already
have a SMCC (Sun Microsystems Computer Company), we have Javasoft…there isalready a
Chennai-based company that will be doing Java-related work and it is for the first time
that a Sun entity in the US has subcontracted work out here.

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