In Reversal, Sun to Ship $99 Solaris 9 x86

Sun plans to ship Solaris 9 x86, unbundled, supporting both the Sun hardware platform and the same list of all hardware supported for Solaris 8.

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday will announce plans to release an unbundled version of the Solaris 9 operating environment for non-Sun x86 hardware for $99 for a single CPU system.

After months of indecision, Sun will now ship Solaris 9 x86, unbundled, supporting both the Sun hardware platform, for both current and future products, as well as the same list of all hardware supported for Solaris 8, according to Sun officials in Palo Alto, Calif. Early access to the Solaris 9 bits will come in the next four to eight weeks, and the final product will ship in the January time-frame, they said.

The announcement brings to an end months of uncertainty about Suns intentions in this regard. In early January the Palo Alto, Calif., company announced that it had decided to defer the productization of the Solaris 9 Intel version; a week later it announced plans to meet a group of customers and developers to try to work out a compromise; and in August it announced that it would only support Solaris 9 on Sun x86 hardware.

John Loiacono, vice president of the operating platforms group at Sun, told eWeek in an interview Thursday that the company remained fully committed to supporting the Solaris x86 platform going forward, which supports both Sun and non-Sun hardware.

Sun will also work with the community to provide the compatibility test suite it used internally, and was considering opening up the code for the product to the open source community sometime in the future.

"Our announcement earlier this year that we might not be able to continue with Solaris 9 x86 caused a huge upheaval, and people wanted an answer sooner than we could give it to them," he said. "We always said we would continue to talk to the community and find a viable business model that would support it unbundled. Weve now done that."

The Solaris 9 x86 rollout is exactly the same delivery time frame as for Suns own x86 offering, the LX50. Sun will also continue with its plans to deploy its entire SunONE (Open Network Environment) stack, as well as other key software components on the Solaris, Linux and Solaris x856 platforms, Loiacono said.

"We now have a new plan and business model around Solaris x86, and, unlike with Solari8 x86 which was available for free download, we will now be selling Solaris 9 x86 starting at $99," he said. "The customers we talk to feel this still offers good value, especially as it runs on relatively low-cost hardware. I also believe it is viable as a long-term viable business we can sustain."

In the past Sun did not ship Solaris bundled on its own hardware. But with the advent of the LX50, follow on products and diversification of the Solaris x86 product line, "you see that the whole company is now behind it rather than trying to sell it as an unbundled product," he said. "Thats why we see it as a sustainable business for us moving forward and actually addressing the unbundled platforms is something we can now sustain as well."

Graham Lovell, director of marketing for operating systems and availability at Sun, said the business model around this was buoyed by a ramping of interest in the platform from its existing installed base, new prospects, ISVs and those interested in software sales.

"So this is now a vastly different business proposal than before when we were just essentially selling an operating system on an x86 box," he said.

Sun will continue to engage with the community and will work with the community to provide the Sun compatibility test suite used to validate that x86-based products and systems run.

Sun will also probably open source this product sometime in the future. As such, it will work with the community to put together a hardware compatibility list that expand the range of systems known to work on Solaris on x86.

Sun was also exploring a more collaborative working arrangement with the community involving things like code exchanges, information exchanges and the like, Lovell said. But he pointed out that while Sun would supply and support its SunONE software products on the x86 operating system as a stack, some of this was pre-bundled for free on its LX50 hardware along with some other components that were supplied under various licensing terms.

"So there wont be parity between Sun hardware and non-Sun hardware. There will still be an element of software that the LX50 comes with that the non-Sun hardware wont get. Things we might include in the LX50 as a bundle are the streaming server. The general principle we are operating on is that if it available for SPARC it should be available for the LX50," Lovell said.

While the community had predicted that Sun could sell as many as 100,000 copies of the unbundled Solaris 9, Lovell said he expected that number to be closer to between 20,000 and 50,000 for single CPU systems, tailing as it moved into two-plus CPU systems.

Looking to the future, Suns Loiacono said Solaris 10 would continue to build on a lot of the investment that had gone into Solaris two and three years ago, which would be manifested in Solaris 10. This would not just be incremental increases in functionality, but include new technologies that takes the container concept in Solaris 9 further and delivers a complete solution in that space around availability.

"Well see things in the file system area that are phenomenal breakthroughs," he said. "There are five or six substantial areas around availability, security and file system functionality that will be an absolute breakthrough."

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