Two tech giants are handing out pink slips this week. In one case, this means next to nothing. The other, however, might signal more layoffs to come.
In what appears to be little more than some light housekeeping, this week Microsoft will be saying goodbye to about 700 employees. This is a routine move, and about the only reason this is getting any attention is...well, Microsoft and jobs. A little more serious are layoffs at Oracle. In both cases, however, the number of jobs being lost amounts to little more than a drop in the bucket for these two tech giants. Of course, that's little consolation if you're one of the people getting sacked.
The layoffs at Microsoft are part of a plan announced in June to cut 2,850 jobs by the end of this fiscal year. According to Business Insider, this isn't a cost cutting measure, but an attempt "to update skills in various units" -- a pruning, in other words. Most of the scheduled cuts have already taken place.
The layoffs are also not expected to have any impact on the size of Microsoft's workforce of 113,000. The company is still hiring and currently lists over 1,600 open positions on LinkedIn.
The layoffs at Oracle are another matter entirely.
On Friday the San Jose Mercury broke the news that Oracle is laying off approximately 450 workers at its hardware systems division at Sun Microsystem's old location in Santa Clara. However, The Layoff, a discussion board centered on tech job cuts, is indicating that something like 1,800 Oracle jobs are going bye-bye, a figure that most in the media are taking seriously. With over 136,000 employees this is, again, merely a drop in the bucket. But unlike the cuts by Redmond, these layoffs point to some major issues at Oracle.
Mostly, it probably represents the end of SPARC and Solaris as viable products. Both were already in decline when Sun was bought by Oracle in 2010, and although Ellison & Company spent a bucket or two of R&D money to revitalize them, seven years later neither has picked up much traction in the market. With all indications being that most sales of SPARC and Solaris are to customers already locked-in to the products, with very few new first-time users coming on board, it appears that Oracle's suits have decided it's time to quit throwing good money after bad.
Neither SPARC nor Solaris will completely go away anytime soon, however, but will linger for years until taken off life support.
Oracle recently indicated that Solaris 11, which is supported until 2034, will not be replaced by Solaris 12 as originally planned, but by Solaris 11.next, which will resemble a rolling release but with frequent minor point releases. With something like 50 percent of the operating system's developers leaving in this round of layoffs, we can expect that going forward it will be short on added new features and long on security patches and bug fixes. Although customers will likely still be able to purchase new licenses and support, I doubt this will be a product the company's sales staff will be pushing.
The same is true with SPARC. The company will most likely not drop the server from it's hardware lineup anytime soon, but with most of its R&D crew gone there aren't going to be the kind of improvements to the architecture that would entice customers to stand in line for a shiny new SPARC server for the datacenter -- especially in an age when the importance of on-premises datacenters is being eclipsed by the cloud.
Indeed, the cloud might be the big question mark in this scenario.
Before the layoffs, Oracle had announced plans to launch a SPARC cloud that would showcase Solarius and SPARC, and if the launch goes through -- right now Oracle isn't talking -- and gets positive user traction, that might generate a renewed interest in SPARC and Solaris that could change the game. Many smart money folks say that's not likely to happen, however, and have already written-off Oracle's cloud attempts as coming too late to have much impact against AWS and Azure.
With Oracle's traditional server and software businesses in rapid decline, SPARC and Solaris are the least of its worries. Some financial experts are predicting another round of layoffs coming from Big Red soon.