Sun Microsystems is making a serious pitch into the whitebox space with a series of AMD-Opteron workstation and server bundles, as well as aggressively priced Star Office and Java Desktop System (JDS) offerings.
Fresh from a month-long road show, which visited all the major capital cities, Sun's product business manager for servers and work stations, Rob Becker, said the company has signed up more than 100 partners in the whitebox reseller and custom-build space.
"We are getting a lot of interest by offering systems which provide alternatives to the traditional MS and Intel environments," Becker said. "Our Sun Opteron-based workstations offer resellers a way to differentiate themselves, and reduce cost and complexity for their customers."
While conceding that the low-cost computing market is already highly competitive, Becker predicted Sun's pitch will prove successful because it offers a high quality product into a market recognised for pitching generic volume products.
"We're offering resellers the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the tier-one players, and giving them something the traditional whitebox manufacturers haven't been able to," Becker said.
However, as it makes a play for a segment of the already crowded whitebox market, it is also pitching for partnerships with whitebox manufacturers and custom-build shops. Based around an offering of the latest version of Star Office and JDS, Becker said the new partnerships will see a raft of resellers and manufacturers consider alternatives to Microsoft-based software solutions.
ASI Solutions director, Maree Lowe, said Sun's Star Office offering coincides with a significant increase in interest in open source software generally.
"There are a lot of customers going past the talk stage and government departments are actually asking for Linux-based desktops," she said. "We're also seeing a lot of Linux and Star Office going into point-of-sale environments where they are trying to keep costs down. We are certainly listening to what Sun is saying."
Moreover, Lowe is largely unconcerned about partnering with a company that is simultaneously making a play for a substantial share of ASI's traditional territory.
"We'd be stupid not to look at what they are brining to the market just because we will be competing with them on some levels," Lowe said. "It's all about what fits the customer, whether it's our offering or what someone else is bringing to the market. If they are doing something better then we'll include it as part of our overall package."
Linux shops, such as ABD Computer Installation, welcomed the Sun offering with open arms.
"Sun has already done a lot to open up the market for open source software, and what they are doing is really making a difference in terms of customer acceptance," manager of ABD Computer Installation, Mohammad Kaan, said. "The world is changing and the dependency on Microsoft is breaking. What Sun is doing is opening more doors for us as well."
However, other whitebox resellers have yet to be convinced. Managing director Adler Training and Consulting, John Adler, argued that while there is a fanatical fringe that is committed to open-source software, the public at large is far from ready to make the switch away from Microsoft.
"Selling open source software is still far too much of a challenge, and Star Office and JDS are far too much of an unknown for most businesses," Adler said. "You're average user isn't going to switch away from Microsoft, even if you give the software away, and your mid-sized companies with a small internal technical team just aren't going to take the risk."
Adler also pointed out that there is little incentive for whitebox and custom-build resellers to make the switch to lower cost products, because they provide less margins.
"We're not going to push an $80 product if we are only going to make $8 out of the sale," Adler says. "I might only make $100 out of Microsoft, but at least I don't need to become an expert in open-source software in order to sell it."
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