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Linux Viewpoint: Sun's Plan to Confront Linux

Linux Viewpoint: Sun's Plan to Confront Linux

I don’t get it. Sun is still trying to go against market trends and push Solaris on SPARC when many customers want Linux. Sun has a wonderful volume server business with Solaris on SPARC. In fact, Sun has lowered its SPARC-based volume server prices so much that it can compete on price with some of Dell’s offerings. And some of Sun’s middleware products are included.

But many users want Linux. Linux server sales are growing by at least 30%-35% per year. Users are interested in Linux for a number of reasons: they don’t want to be locked in to proprietary hardware; they know that it is just a matter of time until Linux (or Windows) replaces Unix in the data center; ISVs are moving more and more of their applications to Linux, etc.

It may be the case that Sun is able to compete from a price perspective with some Linux offerings, but for a company to succeed it has to give customers what they want. Sun has a good Linux strategy with an Opteron server, the z20, already on the market and more Opteron servers on the way. Rather than let Dell, HP, and IBM tease their customers with migration to Linux on their servers, Sun should be working to get those Solaris users who want to move to Linux to move to Sun’s Linux servers. Doesn’t that make sense?

IBM has done a good job positioning AIX and Linux. IBM generally gives users what they want. Although IBM would rather sell Linux on POWER, they will sell it on Itanium 2 or Opteron. As a result of this strategy, IBM claims that they are generating more revenue from AIX. The reason for this is just good marketing, give the customer what they want, and if they need added capacity that cannot be supplied by Linux, sell them AIX. IBM does have an advantage here though because Linux runs on POWER.

Linux does not run on SPARC, at least in any productive way. But Sun has Solaris on Intel and Opteron. Sun’s push should be Linux and Solaris on Opteron for those users who prefer to move away from Solaris on SPARC. Sun has everything set up to make a move in the server market with its Linux and Solaris on Opteron, but it just cannot get away from Solaris on SPARC even though the market is going the other way.

I am probably one of the few analysts left who believes that Sun will alter its server strategy in the next two or three years. The question is will it be too late to help. Sun has to accept the fact that users do not want to buy proprietary platforms for all of their computing needs. Linux vendors such as Red Hat have been working overtime to get ISVs onto Red Hat Enterprise Linux and they have done a good job with over 750 ISVs. But Solaris 8.0 has over 6,000 certified ISVs and Solaris 9.0 over 2,000. Sun has been slow to get these ISVs to move to Solaris on Intel and Opteron. I believe that they should use the ISV advantage that they have over everyone except Microsoft to get the ISV applications on Solaris/Intel/Opteron and on Linux/Opteron. Then Sun would start to move again, albeit with a different business model.

More Stories By Bill Claybrook

Bill Claybrook is President of New River Marketing Research, a marketing research firm that focuses on Linux, open source software, and commercial grid computing. He performs primary research and helps marketing organizations plan for new product offerings and develop go-to-market strategies, as well as develop marketing analysis content. Prior to entering commercial computing and marketing research, he was Associate Professor of Computer Science at Virginia Tech and the University of Connecticut, as well as Professor of Software Engineering at the Wang Institute of Software Engineering.

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Most Recent Comments
ciggieposeur 06/03/04 12:15:03 PM EDT

I'm not excessively familiar with Solaris from an admin standpoint, but I have done quite a bit of porting C/C++ stuff to it and a lot of admin'ing AIX. To be blunt, I don't care much for Solaris and should I ever be in the position to authorize a purchase I'd almost certainly look at Linux first and AIX second. Here's why:

1) Linux is pretty darn good. It would take some *unusually* serious needs before you *have* to look outside the Linux camp to find a workable solution. Linux has XFS, JFS, and ReiserFS, really good support for reliable and fast high-end SCSI, SMP, Beowulf'ing, and a huge community to provide free-as-in-beer help.

2) On a per-processor basis, Linux-on-Intel/PowerPC is faster than Solaris-on-anything hands down. (This will probably change after the next generation of Sparc chips comes out.)

3) Solaris tends to be a pain to port code to. Much like AIX, it's got the AT&T-derived libraries and proprietary crud that doesn't function with as much polish as the GNU stuff. So you end up installing a huge set of GNU tools and libraries on Solaris and ... geez by this time you've almost got GNU/Linux again on Sun hardware. AIX 5L has at least started to reverse the trend -- you can get most of the GNU tools pre-installed. (Yes, the native compiler on Solaris and AIX produces much faster code than gcc. Most of my apps don't need the speed, they need the portability. I can optimize at the higher layers and get the speed I need.)

I see plenty of places where *today* Solaris has a great role, but I don't see much in the future. And Sun hardware is nice, but certainly not extraordinarily better than IBM hardware.

drizst 'n drat 06/03/04 12:11:06 PM EDT

I don't know, but in my humble opinion, Solaris has a lot more going for it than does Linux.

No, this isn't meant to be a troll or flamebait. I've used Solaris since 4.1.3 and through 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, and now 2.9 and can tell you that this is a really nice operating system. Simple, logical, and extremely robust. Granted, I've used it on SPARC machines and that is where it really shines. I have used 2.7 and 2.8 on the intel platform with decent results. Maybe it's just the familiarity and comfort level associated with working on Sun hardware, but Solaris is solid and a dream to work with. I've used (and still do) RedHat and SuSE and though they look good, and in many cases is more suited to the intel platform, I can't believe that if Sun took to making Solaris more available that more folks wouldn't use it.

I know, you need applications and other vendor support, but still ...

cpghost 06/03/04 12:08:10 PM EDT

>>to steer development effort away from Linux and on to Solaris <<

Just by open sourcing Solaris? Unlikely. By this logic, a lot of Linux kernel developers would have already moved to the BSDs. Yet it (usually) doesn't happen. Why? Perhaps because hackers like the systems they're developing and so stick to them no matter what happens outside. It may be just a matter of habit or laziness (to learn new interfaces, functions, etc...).

stephenry 06/03/04 12:06:17 PM EDT

When open-sourcing Solaris, Sun will probably use a GPL incompatible license, and aim to steer development effort away from Linux and on to Solaris; over which they would have more control, causing, in essence, a fork in Linux Kernel Development.

I bet Microsoft got a good deal of influence on Sun's business decisions for $2 BN.

gorim 06/03/04 12:03:51 PM EDT

Solaris has been ported to other architectures. The x86 port has existed for years, with every new Solaris release since 2.5 ? (maybe earlier) At Solaris 2.5.1 there was a PowerPC port. It only lasted that release though...

It would be cool to run Solaris on my Mac!!! (Yes I can be perverted at times...but I always thought Sun and Apple should join forces...Apple makes a better desktop UNIX workstation now than Sun ever could, and that used to be Sun's bread and butter).

allen zadr 06/03/04 12:02:20 PM EDT

The SPARC line has long been a place where Sun excels

Well, when I say excel, I should really say it in the past tense. Being, really, since the SPARC platform went PCI the whole thing went downhill.