Sun looks for partners in per-user licensing

At its SunNetwork user conference in Berlin next month, Sun Microsystems plans to announce the first independent software vendors (ISVs) that have signed up to distribute their software along with Sun's Java Enterprise System middleware and Java Desktop System software.

When it unveiled a per-employee licensing model for its Java Enterprise System middleware and Java Desktop System software last September, Sun claimed that the switch to an annual per-employee licensing fee would simplify its customers' software license management. Sun also said that it planned to release all of the individual pieces of software within these two suites in well-integrated quarterly updates, thus simplifying the management and upgrading of its products.

Now it appears that the company plans to include third-party software in its regular updates and per-user licensing plans. According to Stuart Wells, Sun's senior vice president of market development, the company has been quietly working since September to sign up partners for its two software suites.

Though Sun declined to name any of the ISVs that has signed, the company is in discussions with two types of software vendors: infrastructure software providers (like Veritas Software and Vignette), and application vendors (like Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys) "At this particular time, we've got a lot of ISV interest in terms of the pricing model," said Wells.

Wells confirmed that the company had already signed up more than one ISV. "We've got a couple of big ones, and then a bunch of little ones (signed up)," he said.

Tighter integration with third-party software will help adoption of the Java Enterprise System, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with Red Monk, an industry research firm. "If you're going to be serious about being a platform player and being essentially the de facto standards within enterprises, it is important that you are playing nicely with the enterprise applications that are out there," he said. "If they could get ... some of the ISVs to sign on to the model and adapt some of the practices, it would be very significant," he said.

For many Sun customers, the savings gained with the Java Enterprise Systems US$100 per employee, per year licensing model are great enough that rolling in third-party applications is not critical to the success of the software, O'Grady added.

However, one BEA Systems WebLogic user said that Sun's new pricing model was unlikely to win his business, with or without third-party ISV support. Dave Gallaher, the director of IT development for Jefferson County, in Golden, Colorado, said that Sun's per-user licensing was too similar to Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing plan for him to consider switching.

"You start adding up the numbers and it gets to be breathtakingly expensive." With 2,000 employees in Jefferson County, Sun's Java Enterprise System would cost him $200,000 per year, he said. "I'm not really interested in that price. I can go buy stuff from their competitors with all the bells and whistles I can think of for a whole lot less than that."

Sun is expected to ship the Java Enterprise System later this month. The Java Desktop system will ship Dec. 3, Sun said.

The SunNetwork conference will be held on Dec. 3 and 4 at Internationales Congress Centrum Berlin.

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