Tag Archives: Sun Microsystems

What to Expect When You’re Expecting – to Be Acquired

(Part 2 of Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition) I, too, received well-meaning advice from several high-profile Sun people: my job would disappear because Oracle “doesn’t do community” in the same way Sun did. This was true: we were told early on that our community work would be handed over to the small Oracle team Read More…

(Part 2 of Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition)

I, too, received well-meaning advice from several high-profile Sun people: my job would disappear because Oracle “doesn’t do community” in the same way Sun did. This was true: we were told early on that our community work would be handed over to the small Oracle team that managed relations with the wholly independent and self-funding Oracle user groups worldwide. The OpenSolaris and Java beer and pizza parties were coming to an end. During this time, I was forcibly appointed secretary to the OpenSolaris Governing Board, a job I would not have been enthusiastic about at the best of times (having little patience for formal committee procedure) – and this was, obviously, not the best of times for that group.

I performed my various sorta-kinda-marketing activities as a non-coding member of an engineering organization. Again, there was demonstrable value in what I was doing, but the oddity of it all made me vulnerable, especially in a more traditionally-minded company. In spite of Larry Ellison’s loud proclamations that few Sun staff would be cut, I could only agree with Tim and Simon’s assessment that I would likely be one of those few.

In the midst of all this, in late August/early September of 2009, I broke up with Enrico, to whom I’d been married for 20 years. Yes, I believe in getting through all of my traumas at once. (Not to be dismissive of what was obviously a shattering event, but this is not the place to discuss it.)

Meanwhile, we in Solaris engineering had community and marketing activities already planned and paid for into early 2010, so we carried on with a “last waltz” desperation, waiting for the axe to fall. In the summer of 2009 I travelled to Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, and OSCON for Sun. In the fall, I helped run events at Usenix LISA in Baltimore and SuperComputing in Portland.

All this (and more) created so much video footage that I was paying Sun’s professional video contractors to edit my videos. I later learned that this work kept several of them afloat while Sun’s official marketing media activity was being shut down and handed over to Oracle.

We all got a taste of Oracle media and events showmanship at Oracle Open World in October, 2009.

The opening keynote session started with Scott McNealy, Sun founder, former CEO, current Chairman of the Board, and orchestrator of the Oracle acquisition. Against a backdrop of soothing Sun blue, he gave a sweetly elegiac talk aimed at the Sun faithful: “We kicked butt, had fun, didnʼt cheat, loved our customers, changed computing forever.” All true, I supposed, but the McNealy magic failed to sway me – I had missed his heyday at Sun and didn’t really know why his former employees loved him so much.

Scott exited, stage right (or left). There was a moment of silence, then everything turned scarlet, the music changed to a pounding rhythm, and Larry came bounding out. He gave a very aggressive speech in the trademark Ellison style about how the newly combined forces of Oracle and Sun (“but mostly me“) would beat the world – especially IBM and RedHat. At the very least, we were in for a change of leadership style.

I had pinned some hopes on the fact that Oracle’s top executive team was much more diverse (read: fewer white men) than Sun’s. I was particularly prepared to be impressed by Safra Catz, the co-president/COO, who had a reputation as a shrewd, no-nonsense businesswoman. She was stiff and clearly uncomfortable on stage, which was forgivable. But then, in reference to an Oracle partner that does retail analytics or some such, she mouthed a scripted line about “Oh, I love shopping.” Safra! How could you let them do that to you? This chipped away at my hope that Oracle might be ok to work for.

While at LISA, I got in front of the camera for once, in a conversation with Joyent’s Ben Rockwood about “conferences in general, open source communities, Solaris, OpenSolaris, Sun culture, Sun personalities, the value of video, social media…” I’m not sure I actually held out much hope by then that any of those things would be valued at Oracle.

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A day or two after this, still at LISA, I learned that our small team (me, Teresa, and our manager, Lynn) were all being moved into the Solaris marketing organization. I remember half-consciously digesting this information while haranguing a Usenix-hired cameraman (via cellphone from my hotel room) to zoom in on Bryan Cantrill’s face during his keynote talk. I had barely even met Bryan then, but I wanted his video to look good.

When I was (not very often) back “home” in Colorado, living conditions were stressful. I was renting rooms in a large house from a Sun colleague who had recently had her boyfriend, also a colleague, move in with us. Wondering which of us would survive the transition to Oracle did not aid our already-tenuous household harmony. I had never planned to stay in Colorado long-term; I’d intended it as an easier transition back into the US from my quiet life on Lake Como, before tackling the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley, where I would logically end up for the sake of my career. By early 2009 I had started thinking about making that next move, but the acquisition announcement had put all transfers and promotions within Sun on hold, so for the moment I was stuck.

From the contact we had with Oracle (for us non-exec types, largely via “town hall” conference calls), it was becoming clear that Sun and Oracle were not well matched in corporate culture. One such call was a “we’re number one” pep talk from an Oracle sales exec. I turned to my colleagues listening alongside me in a Sun conference room and said: “When do we all line up for our testosterone injections?”

During a visit to the Bay Area in January, 2010, I met with the woman in charge of Oracle media. It was immediately clear that I would have to fight the “professional vs amateur” video battle all over again; Oracle’s attitude was that only VPs and higher in the corporate chain were worth putting on camera. Not surprisingly, two of Sun’s three video hosting services would be killed off, and the remaining one would be largely inaccessible to plebs like me. “You can put that stuff on YouTube,” she said dismissively. This would cost me a lot of work: YouTube limited me to ten-minute clips, while some of my videos were three hours long!

“What happens to all the material already published?” I asked, thinking of the many hours of Solaris history I had captured, engineers talking in depth about what they had created and why – information that might never be available again.

“We discard it all, not worth rebranding,” she said indifferently.

I pointed out that many of my videos were deeply technical and would continue to be relevant at least until the release of Solaris 11. She grudgingly agreed that I could add an Oracle video intro onto each video by way of rebranding, and keep them… somewhere. Weeks passed before I actually received the file I needed to do this. I spent many, many hours archiving videos from MediaCast and SLX, the two doomed Sun hosts, editing in the jarring Oracle intro clip, and uploading the videos to new homes on YouTube and blip.tv. The lady had told me that the dozens of my videos on the Sun BTV site (the ones the professionals had been paid to edit for me) would have the Oracle intro automatically added, so I didn’t need to do anything with them.

My new director in Solaris marketing was not much of a backer on all this. He essentially patted me on the head and said, “Yes, your little community videos are cute, now go write white papers.” As a rule, I hate, loathe, and despise white papers, but that’s a rant for another day.

 

continues…


 

Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition

The thing to understand about the illumos community is that it started out traumatized: most of us went through the baptism by fire that was the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle. My own part in all this was very minor, but I had a ringside seat on larger events. I recount here what I Read More…

The thing to understand about the illumos community is that it started out traumatized: most of us went through the baptism by fire that was the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle.

My own part in all this was very minor, but I had a ringside seat on larger events. I recount here what I saw; your own memories of this history may, of course, be very different!

Part 1: In the Gloaming

I had started working as a contractor for Sun in March, 2007. They liked me so well that, after a year, they wanted to hire me full-time into the Solaris engineering group, as a social media and community expert. When I got the offer, I called up a friend, a VC in New York who’d been trying to help me find work (not easy, as I was living in Italy at the time).

“I got a job at Sun!” I told him excitedly.

There was a long silence.

“Well,” he finally said, “it’ll look good on your resumé.”

“Huh?”

“Jonathan [Schwartz, Sun’s CEO] has been shopping the company all over Wall Street for nine months. It’s only a matter of time til it’s acquired.”

This did not give me pause. A job with a company on the auction block, back in the US, was still better than poorly-paid work or no work at all in Italy. I’d been through an acquisition before, and did pretty well out of it, though I certainly didn’t get rich. How bad could it be? More to the point: could it be any worse than the career stagnation I was suffering in Italy? I took the risk, left Italy, and went to work for Sun in Colorado. My first day in Sun’s Broomfield office was April 1st, 2008.

It was a shock, but not a surprise, when we heard in March, 2009 – from the media – that Sun might be acquired by IBM. Gloom, doom, and rumors of boom followed – and we were already reeling from round after round of layoffs. After about a month of worrying, we learned that we were, instead, to be acquired by Oracle.

At first blush, this seemed like a better fit and perhaps less overwhelming than IBM. I was cautiously optimistic. An old friend of mine used to work for Oracle and had loved the company, only leaving when she moved with her husband to a city where Oracle didn’t have an office. That had been years before, but I kept an open mind, and set about trying to understand what my life at Oracle might be like.

I was working in two areas – community and social media – where Sun was forward-looking. In employee blogging, Sun was so liberal that the hard part was encouraging employees to be as enthusiastic about it as the CEO.

My video work, though instigated by my managers in engineering, had been harder to “sell” to the official media team at Sun. They wanted all Sun video to show (expensive) professional production values, and were not keen to embrace enthusiastic amateurs like myself. There were stringent guidelines and a multi-week compliance process for the use of the Sun logo. As a result, the most successful video ever made about Sun technology contains no Sun branding at all.*

I was not deterred, and found others who thought as I did about video and podcasts. Sun being the “collection of feuding warlords” that it was, there were eventually three different media hosting platforms made available by various groups within the company, as well as YouTube and blip.tv. Over time I used them all to host my hundreds of technical videos. I knew these to be valuable, and had viewing statistics to prove it, so I was confident that my new colleagues at Oracle could be persuaded.

The acquisition took many months to complete, in part because of an anti-trust investigation by the European Commission. But Oracle was confident of eventual victory, and began dictating changes within Sun well beforehand. And, wherever we lacked concrete knowledge about our future, there were rumors, most of them frightening.

Sun.com was one of the oldest domains on the Internet (one of Sun’s slogans had been “the network is the computer”). Over time it had sprawled to 400 separate sites, a jungle that needed taming – but which also contained an enormous amount of computing industry history.

Suspecting that this status as an Internet historical place would not protect Sun.com, I offered my colleagues this advice based on painful experience.

continues…


*NB: I had nothing to do with this video, and only met its perpetrators later, though I work very closely with them now.


 

The Last of OpenSolaris

The summer of 2010 was largely a painful mess. I had moved to San Francisco in April, and by late May was very ill with a sinus infection that would eventually require months of antibiotics and two procedures to clear out. On the work side, Sun had been bought by Oracle, and we were in Read More…

The summer of 2010 was largely a painful mess. I had moved to San Francisco in April, and by late May was very ill with a sinus infection that would eventually require months of antibiotics and two procedures to clear out. On the work side, Sun had been bought by Oracle, and we were in the throes of a merger that caused enormous pain to most former Sun employees.

I had an office in building 18 of Sun’s Menlo Park (MPK) campus, but I didn’t spend much time there. The building already seemed very empty: whole teams had been laid off, and those remaining preferred to work from home so as not to be constantly reminded of those who were gone.

By midsummer, we knew for sure that MPK would be sold and we’d all be moving to Sun’s Santa Clara offices. As a minor part of preparing for the move, I was asked to clear out 10 or so storage rooms that had belonged to various groups. I was ideal for this assignment: I’m very good at sorting and packing. I also hate waste, so I was anxious to find good homes for as much stuff as possible, though this was a lot more work than just “recycling” it all.

First, I took inventory:

  • Over 3000 t-shirts. Most had been made for OpenSolaris user groups (why were there so many for Poland?!?). We were no longer allowed to give these away outside the company, because the OpenSolaris brand had been “deprecated”.
  • Hundreds of baseball caps, also OpenSolaris-logoed. Ditto.
  • A gigantic shipping pallet full of copies of the OpenSolaris Bible. The information in them was (and is) still useful, but, again – wrong branding.
  • Hundreds of copies of Solaris Internals, Solaris Application Programming, and others, but only 28 of Solaris Performance and Tools – which proved to be the most in-demand of the books.
  • Huge amounts of office supplies, which we gave to a program that gives this stuff to teachers.

There were a few unique items, such as Solaris-logoed boxer shorts. Thousands of plastic license plate frames intended for a dismally-failed promo for the Sun cloud (nothing to do with these but put them in the recycle bin).

^ I found two of these robots in a closet that had belonged to the Java team. Online research showed that they had been part of one of Gosling‘s toy shows at JavaOne some years before. They came home with me; one has since gone on to pursue a career in Hollywood, the other is at the Joyent offices (matches the decor) went to live with Ben Rockwood’s family. I assume that Number 3 still lives with Gosling.

And OpenSolaris-labelled champagne:

I remembered this: it had been served at a party during CommunityOne in 2008. Lynn and I snagged a case of the remainders to take back to our colleagues in Broomfield. The case or so that I later found in a store room in MPK we served at a farewell-to-MPK party in August, 2010.

Making endless trips between buildings with trolleys full of heavy boxes, I consolidated all the books and apparel into one large storage room. Then I advertised within the company to find “buyers.” To my surprise, everyone wanted an OpenSolaris shirt. None had been given out within the company: only people who had attended conferences and user group events had them. Which left out most of the engineers who had actually created (Open)Solaris! So I packed up dozens of shirts to send to Sun offices around the world. I took piles of stuff to the engineering meetings that I attended as part of my regular job – which turned out to be a good way to warm up engineers who were previously too shy to even speak to me.

But there was still a lot of stuff left. Towards the end of summer, when I was on a deadline to get Building 18 cleared, I started having lunchtime “store hours” when people could come rifle through piles of shirts and pick up books.

An Oracle VP of software drove down from Redwood Shores to get copies of Solaris Internals for his team – said he didn’t have budget to buy them. ???

Dozens of people came to grab some remnants of Sun history. There were historic encounters, such as the above meeting in my storeroom/showroom between Solaris book authors Darryl Gove and Brendan Gregg.

Some of the schwag has had interesting later lives. Several dozen hats went to a church, to help keep people together during a hike in Yosemite. Another bunch ended up at a school event, and are still seen on that campus today. I gave a hat to a friend who had nothing to do with Solaris, but now gets chatted up by random geeks in San Francisco whenever she wears it.

^ One of the largest things we kept was this 40-foot banner, which we later used to decorate a Solaris Family Reunion.

While the last of the OpenSolaris branding was thus being purged from Sun/Oracle, two significant things happened for the future of the technology itself:

(More history and what happened next is here.)


 

Part 1: Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition

Part 2: What to Expect When You’re Expecting – to Be Acquired

Part 3: Fishworks and Me

Part 4: Into the Belly of the Beast

Part 5: The Last of OpenSolaris

Coda: Letting Go of a Beloved Technology

Solaris Videos

123 videos I did for Sun and later Oracle, plus a few later, can be found on my old YouTube channel. You might also like: Stuff I Do: dtrace.conf 2012 The Faces of Sun Brendan Gregg at FROSUG, Oct 2009 Little Shop of Performance Horrors

123 videos I did for Sun and later Oracle, plus a few later, can be found on my old YouTube channel.

Mike Shapiro of Sun and Stephen O’Grady of Redmonk

September, 2008 – filmed outside a bar in San Francisco. You might also like: Get Involved! Part 1 Fishworks and Me The Faces of Sun Peter Buckingham on COMSTAR

September, 2008 – filmed outside a bar in San Francisco.