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IBM, HP's open season on Sun Microsystems shops ends

With the Oracle-Sun Microsystems deal done, IBM and HP must adjust their poaching strategies.

Open season on Sun Microsystems' customers is over -- or at least enters a new phase-- now that Oracle has completed its $7.4 billion buyout of Sun.

For more on Oracle and Sun Microsystems:
Sun users heartened by Oracle's Solaris-Sparc pledges

Oracle's silence boosts angst over Sun's hardware future
With the European Commission's approval finally in hand, Oracle laid out its integration plans on Wednesday, pledging continued support of Sun's Sparc and Solaris. systems and an ambitious plan to offer hardware-to-application integrated appliances. And with the deal done and no Sun to kick around any longer, vendors like IBM will have to find new strategies to lure customers from the competition.

The old strategy: Poach Sun customers
On Tuesday, the day before Oracle's call on integration plans, IBM claimed that more than 200 customers migrated from Sun and Hewlett-Packard Co. to IBM computing and storage systems in the last quarter of 2009 and nearly 2,200 customers had converted to IBM from its two rival platforms since IBM launched its Migration Factory. automation tools four years ago. During the past year alone, IBM said it won more than 550 Sun customers to its Unix-based Power Systems, System x, primarily Windows customers, and System z on the mainframe.

But, IBM could offer up only one Sun migrator by name. And it was Birmingham, Ala.-based Energen, an energy company, that started migrating from Sun in 2006, well before Oracle announced its buyout plans and that IBM has featured on its web site for years.

Ron Payne, the director of IT infrastructure, said Energen's Sun servers "grew like rabbits," with a different server for each application. So many servers became hard to manage yet were also underutilized.

Energen converted its 25 Sun servers to two IBM 570 Power 5 series servers running AIX and hasn't' looked back. The company saved $500,000 on Oracle licenses alone, reduced energy consumption and floor space.

Hewlett-Packard has its own poaching strategy. HP said it had had coaxed 350 Sun customers to HP in 12 months . HP credits its SunSet Complete Care assessment and support program with encouraging customers to migrate. Again, no customer names were forthcoming.

Sun resellers watched IBM and HP aggressively court Sun accounts (and the partners themselves). Some of these accounts moved some hardware purchases to alternative vendors, but the partners said surprisingly few Sun shops have forsaken that vendor entirely. Sun customers tend to be extremely loyal even as the vendor struggled for the past five or six years, said one Boston-area VAR that sells Sun and HP equipment.

Unix server wars to continue
Still the delay caused by European regulators gave IBM and HP four to six months of additional time to raise doubts about Sun's hardware future, said Dana Gardner, the principal of Interarbor Solutions, a Gilford, N.H.-based research firm. During that time, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison complained loudly that the delay cost Sun a $100 million a month: a figure that is impossible to verify.

Dan Olds, a principal analyst at Beaverton, Ore.-based Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. said that IBM and HP were simply trying to get as many Sun customers as possible before the merger is complete and while customer uncertainty is at its height.

IBM has been "quicker to the punch and steadier with upgrades" than HP or Sun, but 80% of data centers are mixed environments anyway and Sun has a huge installed base, he said.

"This isn't a knockout blow," Olds said. "Unix server wars will continue well into the foreseeable future."

Because it owns so much software, Oracle could optimize its products to run on Sun servers, potentially becoming very disruptive to IBM and HP, he added.

Joe Clabby, the president of Yarmouth, Maine-based Clabby Analytics, however, said that IBM is the Unix vendor of choice.

With Sun losing millions by the month and HP's Itanium processor lagging in adoption, the other two competitors are "dead-ended," Clabby said.

Clabby predicted that HP will, in fact, move to the x86 space because of the limitations of its Itanium processor.

"HP will become an x86 company running either on Microsoft .NET or Linux with Java," he said.

Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Leah Rosin, Site Editor .

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