Times are tough, but Sun Microsystems partners are confident that demand for the Solaris operating system will help keep them afloat.
A little over a year ago, Sun introduced its latest version of the OS, Solaris 8, contending that it was the first server operating system "to satisfy the convergent requirements of enterprises adapting to the Internet age and of dot-coms adopting the disciplines of the data center."
Well, we all know a little more these days about dot-coms, adaptation and discipline. But Solaris forte is not the struggling small e-company. It was, and remains, the platform of choice for many high-end, big-buck enterprises, and the integrators who serve them.
Other systems—from Linux to Hewlett-Packards HP-UX to Microsofts Windows 2000—may nibble at the edges of its world, but Solaris is holding steady on its Fortune 500 pedestal.
"You could say Solaris was the bright spot in the Unix server operating system environment" last year, says International Data Corp. analyst Dan Kusnetzky.
Solaris grew from 23 percent of the Unix market in 1999 to roughly a 32 percent share in our preliminary 2000 findings, according to IDCs software licensing research.
"HP and IBM both saw increases in their market share, but nothing like what Sun had seen," says Kusnetzky.
He notes that lower-end Unix variants, such as UnixWare, experienced dramatic sales declines. Caldera International, the veteran Linux developer, recently acquired UnixWare and its related businesses from SCO, formerly the Santa Cruz Operation.
Going forward, Solaris No. 1 competitor will likely be Windows 2000. IDC says Microsoft is the leading supplier of server operating software, shipping nearly three times more licenses than the entire Unix server market. In fact, all forms of Unix—including Solaris—accounted for just 15 percent of that arena. Microsofts lead continues to grow, but unit-shipment figures tend to be misleading—especially when comparing Unix to Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows NT Server.
Solaris proponents note that it can take five or more Windows 2000 servers to match the horsepower of a typical Solaris server. Sun installments tend to be very big-ticket items, meaning the integrators that sell and install Solaris might do fewer jobs per year than their Microsoft or Linux counterparts, but the contracts are substantially more lucrative.
Solaris integrators, like many NT solutions providers and some Linux specialists, can mine yesterdays server deal for tomorrows application project. Indeed, integrators can build on the Solaris foundation with high-end applications and middleware from Sun, BEA Systems, J.D. Edwards, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and the like.
That equates to decent standards of living for the Solaris experts. An informal Sm@rt Partner survey found a wide range of salaries for permanently employed Solaris professionals: Depending on experience and training, they can earn between $65,000 and $150,000 annually and are billed out at rates ranging from $140 per hour to $200 per hour.
Skeptical? Consider that a Big Five consulting firm has hired DHR International (www.dhrintl.com/), an executive search firm, to find a seasoned Solaris consultant to serve federal customers. The position comes with a six-figure salary. This, as with many similar Solaris-related positions, are widely advertised on www.6figurejobs.com.
But Solaris isnt just for federal customers. In the Silicon Valley area, Solaris is found just about everywhere, says Fred Ammann, sales manager for Mountain View-based EOS Systems Integrator, a Sun reseller.
"I see a little bit of Windows 2000 out there," reports Ammann. "It is definitely going to play into some of the solutions installations, but the Solaris operating system is bulletproof. The machines dont crash … Solaris is proven."
Indeed, Solaris supports up to 128 processors on a single system and up to 512 processors in a clustered environment. It also can run 32-bit and 64-bit applications.
Several other Unix variants, including Compaq Computers Tru64 Unix (formerly Digital Unix), also offer 64-bit performance, but Windows 2000 wont match that feat until Microsoft delivers an upgrade for Intels forthcoming Itanium processor.
Still, Microsoft is making progress with its 32-bit code base. Despite early concerns about bugs, Windows 2000 has proven to be very reliable.
"I took a lot of heat over Windows 2000 when it being constantly delayed," says Jim Allchin, VP of Microsofts Platforms Group. "But I did the right thing by holding it until the quality was up. The pressure to ship wasnt from customers. It was mostly from the press."
Windows 2000 isnt the only concern on Suns radar. The company and its integrators must also deal with a secondary market thats saturated with Sun equipment. Each time a dot-com shuts down, its entire IT infrastructure—including Sun Sparc servers running Solaris—often gets sold for pennies on the dollar.
Still, Solaris integrators are upbeat. "The fact that we do offer Solaris gets us into places we might not otherwise be," says David Van Beveren, CEO of StarBox Netsystems, which targets ISP customers. "Solaris has features that, in the security area as well as reliability, arent really matched by the other operating systems."
Despite the dot-com meltdown, Solaris looks to be a source of sustenance—for integrators and the people they employ—for quite a while. But while the OS may be a critical piece of a solution, the big bucks are in the overall solution, not the pieces.
Joseph C. Panettieri contributed to this article.