IBM Shifts Gears on Sun Solaris Support

At JavaOne, IBM and Sun Microsystems say IBM will support its middleware and other server programs on Solaris for x86 after all.

IBM has decided that it will support its applications and middleware on Suns Solaris on Intel after all.

At the JavaOne conference in San Francisco on Monday, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. announced that IBM will support its middleware and other server programs—such as its WebSphere J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) server, DB2 DBMS, Rational developer tools and Tivoli management tools—on Solaris for x86.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about IBM extending its Java license with Sun Microsystems.

IBM had declined to support Solaris on Intel in January. At the time, company officials said that while IBMs software supports a range of platforms, decisions on whether to do so are based on customer demand. "Solaris 10 on x86 is new and has not reached that required level of customer interest," said IBM spokesperson Steve Eisenstadt.

Then, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz turned IBMs lack of support into a public fight by taking the unusual step of posting an open letter to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano in his blog.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about Schwartzs open letter.

"Customers have now asked me to begin communicating with you in a more public and visible way—theyd like the choice to run IBM products on Solaris 10, and theyre feeling that your withholding support is part of a vendor lock-in strategy," Schwartz wrote in January.

Now the two companies have buried the hatchet and are getting on with the business of winning customers.

Analysts and industry figures alike applauded the industry giants rapprochement.

Indeed, Stephen OGrady, an analyst at RedMonk, said he thought it was this news, and not Sun making another open-source step with Java, that was "the most interesting part of [Schwartzs] whole keynote."

OGrady said he thinks IBM decided to reverse its approach because "it comes down to IBM being pragmatic and recognizing that despite all the inroads that Linux has made into Solaris territory, theres still a fair number of customers running Solaris that want to run their IBM apps there."

OGrady said he didnt find the move surprising.

"The timing of the announcement has piqued a lot of peoples interest, but regardless, I think it was almost an inevitable move on IBMs part. Ive also heard a couple of folks express mild surprise, given the depth of IBMs commitments to Linux, but its not as if IBM doesnt support Windows," OGrady said.

Other analysts agreed.

"IBMs decision to provide support for its middleware software running on Sun Microsystems Solaris 10 operating system on SPARC x86 and x64 platforms is a sagacious move on Big Blues part," said Laura Didio, senior analyst for application infrastructure and software platforms at the Yankee Group. "It is a win-win proposition that serves the respective IBM and Sun customers well,"

"IBM takes a very mature view of the market," said Dan Kusnetzky, systems software vice president at IDC.

"They want to help the customer achieve a total solution in which IBMs products and services are a significant component. If that solution includes some Sun hardware or Sun software, so be it," Kusnetzky said.

DiDio said that because enterprises are now holding onto their servers and workstations for longer, the move makes good sense. "Strong service and support is crucial in order to preserve the performance and functionality of disparate hardware and software platforms and maintain the good will of the customers by supporting aging software and hardware—even if a portion of the infrastructure is a competitors equipment," she said.

It also will be a good move for IBM in the long run, according to DiDio.

"Approximately 50 percent of Big Blues annual revenue is derived from the Global Services and support organization. Like the old adage, Hold your friends close and your enemies closer, IBM has everything to gain," DiDio said.

"If IBM is already supporting its middleware on Sun hardware, it provides IBM sales and support personnel with ample opportunity to leverage Big Blues tremendous economies of scale and displace the Sun Solaris OS and the Unix RISC-based boxes and upsell its own hardware and Linux solutions," DiDio said.

So, why should Sun make this move?

Kusnetzky said he sees both companies benefiting. "Sun also benefits by having IBMs sales force, support force and hardware supporting Suns architecture."

In addition, "both organizations believe that theyll have a better chance competing with Microsofts architecture by offering a unified solution," Kusnetzky said.

Unisys also sees the deal as opening doors for both customers and integrators.

"Any manufacturer that supports more alternative vendor operating systems on their own hardware is a good thing—its good for them because it allows them to sell more of their hardware, its good for their customers because it gives them what they want, and it is good for system integrators and professional services because it adds new opportunities and new options that they didnt otherwise have," said Jason Perlow, a systems architect with Unisys open-source solutions practice.

Still, as Gordon Haff, senior analyst at research house Illuminata, observed, "Lets not confuse mutual interests with any great love!"

"But seriously, there seems to be a general turning-down of the rhetoric and sniping between a number of companies," Haff said.

"I dont want to overstate this; its not like everyone is one big happy family. But theres a general sense that with more spending going on, better to make nice, interoperate and let a rising tide lift all boats than to carry on very public, negative and divisive debates that close user pocketbooks."

In this case, Haff said he thinks it boils down to two words: customer demand. "IBM Software Group is in business to sell products, and there are plenty of people who want those products running on Solaris 10."

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