Sun and Red Hat Make Nice

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-09-14

Sun and Red Hat Make Nice

Not so long ago, Sun and Red Hat were getting along like cats and dogs. Recently, however, the erstwhile partners have returned to acting like real partners. Whats happened?

For those that follow Sun Microsystems Inc. closely, one of the more amazing sights at Suns quarterly New York Network Computing event on Monday was not Suns new Galaxy server line but Sun President Jonathan Schwartz on stage with a Red Hat Inc. VP.

In recent months, the two "partners" had been pounding on each other with hammer and tongs. Last September, Schwartz and Red Hats vice president of open-source affairs, Michael Tiemann, were openly fighting with each other in dueling blogs.

Before that, Schwartz was claiming that RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) wasnt an open-source operating system at all but actually a proprietary operating system. Those comments went over like a lead balloon in Red Hat circles.

While Sun spokesperson Russ Castronovo contends "that many folks have been perceiving the relationship as more contentious than it really is/was," others would disagree. After all, it was only in February, with the release of RHEL 4, that Red Hats Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering, said "Its the beginning of the end for Solaris in the enterprise."

Now, as Sean Gallagher, Ziff Davis Internet executive editor blogged this week, "Another change is Suns detente with Red Hat ... Sun recently renewed its licensing and OEM agreement with Red Hat."

Why? Gallagher speculated that "The alliance with Red Hat, which looked more like a name-calling match last year, is a lot friendlier now that Sun has some promising hardware on its end, and as Sun starts to circle in on Hewlett-Packards HP-UX installed base."

Red Hat wouldnt disagree.

"We support Suns resolve to shift strategies from customer lock-in to customer choice. The demand for Red Hat Enterprise Linux on industry-standard hardware has been overwhelming. Its a good move for Sun to get on board with this trend. We look forward to jointly expanding the market for Linux," said Leigh Day, Red Hat spokesperson.

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Laura DiDio, Yankee Group senior analyst, says it is simply a matter of the companies putting the practical matters of making money ahead of name-calling.

"The driving force behind Sun and Red Hats newfound rapprochement and civility towards one another is pragmatism, purely and simply."

"Behind the scenes, none of these competitors like one another any better now than they did when they made publicly dismissive and disparaging remarks about each others respective products and strategy. But they realize (as former Novell CEO Ray Noorda did 15 years ago when he coined the phrase) that "co-opetition" makes the most business sense for all concerned," said DiDio.

"Corporate customers want and are demanding that their vendors abandon divisive rhetoric and useless posturing and get on with the business of working together constructively," continued DiDio.

"Does Sun still want customers to choose Solaris over OpenSolaris and Red Hat Enterprise Linux? Absolutely. But like Steve Ballmer before him, McNealy realizes that hell catch more flies with honey, than he will with vinegar," DiDio said.

Next Page: Suns Opteron servers subsidize Solaris engineering.

Suns Opteron servers subsidize

Solaris engineering">

Stacey Quandt, research director for the Aberdeen Group, agreed and broke it down in greater detail.

"The reality is that Sun sells more AMD-based Sun Fire servers running on Linux than Solaris. Red Hat stands to benefit from the brand recognition and subscription sales that come with its partnership with Sun and other large system vendors. The fact that the contention was absent from Suns Network Computing event is sign of pragmatism rather than a demonstration of a new ideology."

"Sun needs to be a volume leader in AMD Opteron servers in order to subsidize Solaris engineering and the development of new systems such its new Galaxy offering," said Quandt. "Right now being nice to Sun suits its needs, but dont forget that it was only a few years ago that Sun executives referred to Linux as the trailer park behind your mansion.

"If Sun succeeds in reversing the imbalance between Solaris and Linux sales we may see yet another turn in Suns positioning of the Red Hat versus Solaris question."

Quandt also wondered if Suns repositioning might have something to do with a lack of market traction for OpenSolaris.

"This could also be a sign that the road map to delivering an open-source version of Solaris will be a bumpy ride."

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Dan Kusnetzky, IDCs program vice president for system software, said that, "Sun does appear to be making efforts to demonstrate to the market that it understands that Linux will play a role, an important one at that, in the success of its X86 product line."

Others, such as IBM and HP, have made it clear that they see this operating environment as an important part of their strategy going forward. Its good to see that Sun is making this effort."

Looking ahead, Kusnetzky observed, "It would be wonderful if Sun would work out a similar relationship with SUSE. Those two hold the lions share of the Linux server operating environment market when worldwide shipments are considered." Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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