Sun-Red Hat Relationship Frays Further

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-09-27

Sun-Red Hat Relationship Frays Further

Sun Microsystems Inc. and Red Hat Inc. are partners, but you might find that hard to believe as the war of words between the two companies heats up.

Michael Tiemann, Red Hats vice president of open-source affairs and former chief technology officer, came out swinging at Sun, first in his company blog and then in an interview with

"When I first met with Wall Street executives in 2001, they were concerned about getting their IT businesses back in line with Moores law," Tiemann told "Suns promised Moores law and hasnt come close to it with its SPARC line, while Intel has promised it and hit and meet it every time. Now, Sun is promising Wall Street that with grid computing they can magically give users computing power on the level of a Google."

Tiemann was referring to Suns unveiling last Tuesday of a new pay-for-use computing model based on Suns N1 Grid Engine. Sun President Jonathan Schwartz told attendees of the Wall Street event that the technology will let users run their IT departments for $1 per hour for each CPU running the Solaris operating system.

In his Saturday blog entry, Schwartz adds more detail, saying that at "a buck an hour for the OS, a CPU, memory and storage ... [t]he computing industrys first calling plan has just been introduced."

Tiemann dismissed these claims. "The process of creating a grid, that gives the remarkable appearance of many systems appearing as one, takes more than just declaring a target," he said. "It requires engineering. What has Sun ever done to show that they can build such a system, much less show that they can deliver those kind of services for $1 an hour?"

To that, Russ Castronovo, a Sun spokesman, replied, "I will point out that Suns Server Ranch in Sunnyvale, [Calif.,] which is one of our primary facilities for the heavy computational lifting done for our chip design, has over 5,000 microprocessors in it and runs at a 90+ percent utilization 24-by-7 and 365 days a year."

Regardless, Tiemann thinks a dollar an hour is too much to pay. "What does that mean? Thats about 20 times more expensive than our most recently reported price for RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux]. I find it amusing that Sun is running around Wall Street … trying to lock customers into a price thats many times more expensive than Red Hat."

Continuing, Tiemann said, "Sun doesnt want to give customers a choice. Sun wants to lock those customers back into Solaris. Sun could build their grids more effectively with RHEL, but theyre not."

Tiemanns assault was apparently triggered by comments Schwartz made in a recent post to his own Weblog, where he wrote in defense of Suns open-source credentials, "Please do not listen to the bizarro numbskull anti-Sun conspiracy theorists. They were lunatics then, they are lunatics now, they will always be lunatics. We love the open source community, we spawned from it. Well protect that community, that innovation, and our place in it, with all our heart and energy."

Tiemann responded in his own blog, "Now, you say that you love the open source community, but how much? If you love the open source community, youd open source Java. If you wont open source Java, it means you dont love us, or at least you dont trust us. Why, then, should we trust you?"

Next page: Suns plan to avoid oblivion?

Page 2

According to a report authored by George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, Sun is singling out Red Hat for attack as part of the companys "plan to avoid oblivion." The first step in that plan, according to Colony, is to "make the argument that Linux equals Red Hat."

"By collapsing Linux into Red Hat," Colony wrote, "Sun now has a clear target. It can hammer away at a company as opposed to waging the impossible task of fighting a social movement. And according to Sun, Red Hat is a very vulnerable target—a company with limited resources, engineering talent, world coverage, and capabilities—with potentially serious IP issues."

While Schwartz has in the past taken pains in his blog to separate Red Hat from the Linux community, calling Red Hat a "proprietary distro," Castronovo conceded that "Red Hat is the de facto standard for Linux, even if it doesnt represent the social movement. The lions share of ISVs go to Red Hat." The entrenched position of Red Hat in the U.S. Linux software market led Sun to abandon its own distribution of Linux last year.

But Red Hat is increasingly taking on Sun head-on. In its most recent quarterly result, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said that much of Red Hat Enterprise Linuxs growth had come at Unixs expense, and Szulik sees this trend continuing. In particular, Szulik mentioned several Red Hat wins that came at the expense of Suns Solaris.

Tiemanns rhetoric, however, goes far beyond boasting of corporate wins. In his interview with, Tiemann said Sun is attacking Red Hat because "Sun is desperately struggling to avoid its demise. We need a Dr. Kubler-Ross for the death and dying of high technology companies. Sun is going through the phase of anger. Theyve been through the phase of denial. I think bargaining is next."

As for other open-source projects that Sun says its supporting. Tiemann says that while Sun keeps talking about "open-source Solaris … well, well believe it when we see it."

Click here to read about Suns plans to open-source Solaris.

In the meantime, Tiemann added, if Sun were serious about open source, besides open-sourcing Java, "if they could write innovative features that could be used by Linux, that would be great."

When asked for a response, Suns Castronovo replied, "Were glad hes reading Jonathan Schwartzs blog, but were not going to respond to Mr. Tiemanns willful distortions."

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