Sun Seeks Linux Customers

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-02-01

Sun Seeks Linux Customers

Sun Microsystems, fighting hard to stem the tide of migrations off its Solaris operating system, is now aggressively moving to try and lure customers off Red Hat Linux, IBMs AIX and Hewlett-Packards HP-UX, to Solaris 10.

As part of this initiative, the firm has struck deals with three global system integrators based in India—Satyam Computer Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro—to provide the services, tools and support customers need to migrate their Linux or proprietary Unix data center environments to Solaris 10.

These latest deals are in addition to similar ones Sun has with U.S. partners like Accenture and EDS.

"We are seeing increasing demand from customers wanting to move away from proprietary operating systems like AIX and HP-UX to Solaris 10," Tom Goguen, Suns vice president of software marketing, told eWEEK.

The battle for Unix customers is not new, with IBM, HP and Red Hat all previously pushing Unix to Linux migration plans for customers and ISVs alike.

Those migration plans to Linux have hurt profitability for Sun, say analysts such as Brent Bracelin at Pacific Crest Securities. Bracelin argues that Sun will have trouble turning a profit in 2006 unless it dramatically reduces costs. One of the big reasons for that prognosis: Sun loses key maintenance revenue as customers migrate away from Unix toward Linux. For instance, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and ETrade have both reported significant cost savings by going toward Linux.

On Jan. 24, Sun reported revenue of $6 billion for the six months ending Dec. 25, up from $5.5 billion a year earlier. The company, however, lost $346 million in the same period, compared to $129 million. Bracelin argues that Suns second quarter results, which resulted in a loss of $223 million, would have looked much worse if it werent for the acquisition of storage giant StorageTek.

Click here to read more on IBM and HPs plans to lure customers off Solaris and onto Linux.

To turn around its fortunes and stem Linux defections, Sun released Solaris 10 as a free download a year ago. Goguen said that since then some 4 million Solaris licenses have been issued, with more than two-thirds of these running on non-Sun x86 commodity hardware.

"We are still seeing more than 10,000 downloads of the software every day. I think a year ago no one would have guessed that wed have distributed more than 4 million Solaris 10 licenses a year later," he said.

With regard to OpenSolaris, there are now more than 11,000 registered community members, and there have been some 28,000 downloads and some 27 groups working on projects for the software.

"There are also some 30 kickbacks that we are starting to use in the mainstream of the operating system," Goguen said.

Customer migrations off Linux and proprietary Unix will also go beyond just the data center, as "when you migrate this you end up in the stack and its really at that level," he said, before launching a scathing attack on the companys competitors in the space.

The ability to offer global support and services is critical and the Linux vendors fell short on this front, Goguen said. While IBM had the resources and ability to provide those things in the ways enterprise customers wanted, it was not the Linux operating system vendor.

"Right now Red Hat does not have the ability to provide that level of service and support to its customers, while Novells SUSE does not have the predominant Linux distribution that all the major vendors are certifying their software to," he said.

Goguen said there is growing concern among some Linux customers, who are starting to leverage some of these services, about the ability of the Linux vendors to deliver the worldwide service required at an enterprise-class level. "Sun has a proven track record of doing this," he said.

But those comments stand in contrast to deals that Red Hat and Novell have made with global service powerhouses like IBM.

In December, IBM said it had elevated both Red Hat and Novell to highest-tier partner status by making them members of its Strategic Alliance program.

Mark Elliott, the general manager of global solution sales and distribution at IBM, said at the time that the move would make it simpler for clients to acquire open standards-based Linux hardware, software and services through integrated and streamlined sales, distribution and services channels.

Also, last August, Novell and HP announced an integrated, tested and validated solution for HPC (high-performance computing) that has both HP and Novell support.

Next Page: Making Solaris easy.

Making Solaris Easy

The barriers to moving from AIX or HP-UX to Solaris are also not that great for those customers looking to do so, or for those looking to move back from Red Hat Linux, Gougen said wryly, adding that this is underscored by the very fact that some of those customers had moved off Solaris to those distributions in the first place.

Sun also offers customers a different business model from its Linux competitors, making its OpenSolaris distribution available for free.

This differs from the Linux model, in which customers cant get the commercial, supportable distribution for free.

"You have to get the support contract for that. We consciously chose a business model that distributed software for free, as this reduces the barrier to distribution," he said.

HP-UX and IBMs AIX are also extremely vulnerable because there is no road map into the future for them, Goguen said, adding that Itanium is "a dead end. HP-UX is sitting on Itanium and they have said they have no plans to bring it to any other architecture," he said.

"If you are an ISV looking at this, other than getting gobs of money from HP to port your applications, why else would you want to do this? Theres a very limited market there for your software. If I were an HP customer on HP-UX I would have Solaris under evaluation across the board. And the good news is that we are supported on a lot of HP hardware already today, so if you want to continue to use HP as your hardware vendor and move to Solaris, you can do that," he said.

While Microsofts Windows will continue to be a competitor, as will Linux, the question there is whether Linux will come down to one or two big commercial distributions or end up as a lot of regional distributions, he said.

Turning to the release of the next version of Solaris, Solaris 11, Gougen made clear that any such a release would be at least several years away.

"Enterprise operating systems are three to five years in transition, typically, and there is not a single customer I have heard from who is asking about Solaris 11," he said.

Solaris 10 is also binary-compatible with most legacy versions of Solaris and, for the most part, the new features the company is coming up with do not require a big architectural change to get them out, Goguen said, "So we have been able to integrate significant features into the operating system without having to change things that would result in a version change, so we have a lot of life there still."

Read more here about Suns software giveaways.

From a channel perspective, Sun is trying to penetrate a broader marketplace with its Solaris operating system, and the only way it could do that was through the channel, he said. The challenge was that Solaris is a very sophisticated product but, at the same time, lacks the easy-to-use tools that would make it really quick to deploy solutions associated with it or the Java Enterprise System.

"So, we are aggressively trying to attack that, to make it possible for a channel partner to, say, easily deploy an identity management solution on top of Solaris into their customer base and possibly even manage it remotely with back-line support services from Sun," Gougen said. "We are trying to aggressively move to a point where we have solution stacks that are more readily deployable. We have some plans there, both in the short term and long term to make this possible."

ILM (information lifecycle management) is one of the areas that Sun is working on simplifying for partners, he said, with the goal of making it possible for them to quickly and easily deploy it as well as manage it remotely, he said.

Sun is also working to ensure that its Connection Services are channel-friendly so that channel partners can be well supported with tools and services.

"We have to enable the channel to be able to offer these [services] to their customers and maintain the partner-to-customer relationship, where Sun can either deliver services directly or the partner puts their name to it and is responsible for managing and deliver that service to customers," Gougen said.

While new services will be rolled out over the next few months, others that provide the remote management services will be rolled out over a number of years, along with an expanding array of Sun Connection Services to support its software. "This is an ongoing initiative for us," he said.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include information and comments from analysts.

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