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Q & A from Sun's Worldwide Education and Research Conference

Each year, Sun Microsystems holds its Worldwide Education and Research (WWERC) conference to bring together thought leaders in education and technology. Campus Technology joined a press conference at this year's WWERC in San Francisco and asked Sun Chairman Scott McNealy (left) and Global Education VP Joe Hartley (right) two questions of interest to higher education. (Photo courtesy Sun Microsystems)

CT: I was very interested in your remarks in the keynote about how Sun handles patent trolls. What is your advice to the open source community about how to ward off IP challenges?

Scott McNealy: I think the best way to ward it off is to get open source that has an indemnification strategy behind it. We [at Sun] work very hard and spend a lot of money before we open source code. We know who the mommy, the daddy is of every line of code -- we have the kennel papers! We have prior art, we have a complete dossier on every line of code that we write, so that when we end up in a court of law in front of a judge we can say, "No, we didn't rip that off, here's the prior art, here's who wrote it..." And then we also have the ability, if NetApp comes at us we can go back at them with $14K. It didn't take us long to basically say defensively, "Every one of your products steps on a big chunk of our IP." And that will hopefully warn the next troll that maybe they'd better not come after us. And we have 5.5 billion dollars of cash in the bank, if a peer troll comes after us. People can safely share around our open source communities, knowing that there are no WTO infractions, and all the rest of it.

Now what can we do about stuff that's just out there? That gets harder, but it's still better than the guaranteed tax you're going to pay on proprietary technology -- not only the tax to use it, but the barrier to exit. So open source without indemnification I still think is better than proprietary code, but open source with indemnification is the best of all worlds right now. And there's an enormous amount campuses can do without taking any risks that way -- just look at all the communities that we're driving with indemnification, with Java and Solaris and SPARC and NetBeans and MySQL and all the rest. We can certainly mitigate most of the IP troll risk, though not all of it.

CT: What are your thoughts on preservation and access, digital repositories, and your hopes for the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group [Sun PASIG]?

Joe Hartley: The PASIG actually got launched at this meeting a year ago, when Mike Keller from Stanford was working with Art Pasquinelli from Sun and realized that we have this incredible breadth of technology that Sun as a systems company can bring. The volume of content that's being produced on an annual basis is just phenomenal, and with the breadth of technology -- disk, tape, computer systems, and software glue -- that we have, we know, and the librarians know, that we [Sun] can bring together some solutions that no other company can.

But we can't do it alone, and so, the cooperation between these great libraries of the world and Sun Microsystems actually resulted in the fact that the very first users of Sun's new Honeycomb technology were libraries. So, while people think about disk as one thing, Sun has [brought together] incredible technology that can: [1] Take care of large data sets (which is a key piece of the PASIG -- how do we share this mass of data, or datasets in terms of the research data). [2] And handle the second piece, video content, which has a whole different set of characteristics. We've got a set of products around that. [3] And take care of the third piece, which has to do with just the good ol' boring digital books and all that other stuff that we automatically think of in terms of libraries -- we've got another product for that.

That's why we announced the open sourcing yesterday in John Fowler's presentation of the Honeycomb technology. Many people think initially that it's [just] storage, and that storage is hardware, but really, the Honeycomb innovation is the software glue that brought all these pieces together. That's what we're trying to drive, and I was so pleased when we had over a hundred universities and government libraries show up in Paris back in November for the real inaugural event of the PASIG group.

Scott McNealy: Thirty-seven percent of the world's data resides on the Sun platform, so we feel an enormous responsibility to lead the community around this [PASIG] effort. It really struck home when we had an executive advisory council with a bunch of CEO-types from the industrialized companies -- not the new age Web companies -- and we got onto this conversation about storage, archiving, and all the rest of it, and one of the customers described their archives as a "landfill." And trying to find an e-mail in the landfill becomes not about archiving -- it's all about retrieval. So we got onto this topic with these CEOs, and they blew up the agenda. Finally I said, "We've got to get back onto the agenda," and they said, "You've got to have an executive advisory council meeting strictly on data" -- the whole data capture, storage, retrieval, archiving, management, and protection environment. Because the number one nightmare for all companies is not that the application might go down or they might miss a customer or two because they can't log in or whatever, or that somebody might go in and corrupt some data... Their massive nightmare is a data breach, the loss of archives. I remember when we bought Storage Tek, people said, "Archives, tape -- how boring." And I said, "You want to see excitement? Go in and tell the CEO or the CIO that you've lost their archives. Then you'll see excitement." You'll have to peel that guy off the ceiling! So, it's a very, very hot topic. You couldn't have gotten a lot of energy around this twenty years ago, but you can get an enormous amount of energy and passion around it now.

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