But analysts say there is more to Sun than servers, which are used in corporate data centers. They say its strengths in software, systems design and research make it an attractive target.
The price tag being discussed by the companies works out to nearly $10 a share, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said on Wednesday. That is approximately twice Sun’s closing price on Tuesday. Shares of Sun surged nearly 79 percent Wednesday on news of the negotiations, to close at $8.89.
I.B.M. has pared back its dependence on hardware, where profit gains have declined, while increasing its investment in higher-margin software and services businesses. It sold off its personal computer business to Lenovo of China in 2005, and its hard-disk drive unit to Hitachi of Japan in 2003.
Sun has a solid share of the market for server computers used in corporate data centers, but it too has been trying to expand in more profitable businesses. While it is struggling financially today, the Silicon Valley company has long been a source of technological innovation.
Sun created both the Solaris operating system, a version of Unix, and Java, an Internet-era programming language and related software tools. Java is the teaching language in most of computer science, and software programs written in Java are widely used in things like data centers and cellphones.