Sun shows Linux server, Solaris on Intel

Sun Microsystems made two strategic moves Monday to answer calls from its user base, by announcing the company's first general-purpose server to run Linux and bringing back a version of its Solaris operating system that runs on Intel chips.

Sun unveiled the Sun LX50 -- a dual-processor thin server that runs the company's new Sun Linux distribution of the Linux OS, said Peder Ulander, director of marketing at Sun. This system is available now and is the first non-appliance server from Sun to run Linux on chips from Intel. The vast majority of Sun's servers use its own Solaris flavor of Unix on proprietary UltraSPARC processors.

Linux is not the only operating system that will run on the Sun LX50. The company also said it will support special versions of its Solaris 8 and the newly released Solaris 9 OSes on the new Intel-based servers. This move reverses a decision made by Sun in January to not release Solaris 9 for Intel chips and to stop downloads of Solaris 8 that support the chips.

Scott McNealy, Sun's chairman, chief executive officer and president, is expected to discuss both announcements in his Tuesday keynote speech here at the LinuxWorld conference.

The Sun LX50 -- codenamed Big Bear -- is targeted at a variety of edge of the network computing tasks such as file serving, print serving and caching files. The system will come bundled with a large software portfolio, including the Sun One Application Server, MySQL database, Sun Grid Engine software, Sun One Developer Studio, Sun ONE ASP (active server pages) and Sun Streaming Server software.

The 1U (1.75 inches) high server starts at AUD$5,200 with a 1.4GHz Pentium III processor, 512MB of memory, a 36GB SCSI disk and dual Ethernet ports. A higher-end system with dual 1.4GHz chips, 2GB bytes of memory a 36GB SCSI disk and dual Ethernet ports will sell for AUD$9,800. Both versions will be made available in Australia through Sun's channel partners.

Users will be able to order the server with either Sun Linux or the Solaris operating system. While Solaris 8 is supported on a wide range of Intel-based hardware, Sun will only support Solaris 9 on the new server. The decision to bring Solaris on Intel back came after months of lobbying by angered users. The company may eventually release a version of Solaris dubbed the Community Edition that users can contribute work to and that would run on a wider base of Intel hardware, according to sources. Bringing Solaris on Intel back only on its own servers could be a way for Sun to respond to a relatively small number of angered users, according to one analyst.

"Putting Solaris on Intel on Big Bear is really targeted to meet the needs of a small number of production Solaris on Intel customers out there," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, New Hampshire-based Illuminata Inc. "I wonder why Sun could not have done this as a low-key professional services offering."

Dell Computer Corp. is one vendor that sells Solaris on Intel to select customers as a custom software install package but does not draw much attention to this practice. Sun, on the other hand, made users wait several months for any word on Solaris' future on Intel chips and is bringing it back at one of its biggest announcements of the year. Celebrating Linux and Solaris on Intel at the same time could befuddle Sun's users, Haff said.

"To resurrect Solaris on Intel and include it as an official operating system and talk about it the same breath as Linux could potentially cause some confusion about Sun's direction," Haff said. "It will probably raise questions in peoples' minds about Sun's commitment to Linux. They are probably not valid questions, but they will be raised."

Competitors IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) were among those questioning Sun's entry into the Linux space. Sun is the first among its rivals to distribute its own version of Linux designed for corporate use. The company has profited from the healthy support of ISVs (independent software vendors) for Solaris and could eventually use these relationships to strengthen Sun Linux as well.

IBM, also announcing a new Intel-based server Monday, had harsh words for Sun.

"I really do believe that they are only announcing this Linux initiative as a defensive measure because they are losing share," said Rich Michos, vice president of Linux servers at IBM.

IBM charged that Sun is losing share in the low end of the server market. Sun's Ulander, however, said edge of the network computing is just taking off, and Sun is positioning itself now to take advantage of that growth.

In addition, moving into support of Linux was a "natural progression" for Sun, given its long-time support of open systems, Australian product sales manager Ian Dagger said.

"Sun has been in open source for some time. We've had Solaris based on Unix, this is Linux based on Unix, so it's not all that new," he said.

Like IBM, HP has questioned Sun's introduction of its own Linux distribution, saying it makes more sense to rely on the vast network of open source developers behind the OS and to support their products.

"Our approach has been to work with the popular Linux vendors out there and make their products work well and run well on our servers," said Hugh Jenkins, vice president of marketing for the industry standard server group at HP. "That's served us well to date."

Sun, however, may be chasing one of its core objectives with Sun Linux, Haff said. Sun has been trying to increase the adoption of its Sun One Internet infrastructure products and is bundling parts of this stack such as the Sun One Application Server with its servers.

"One of the Sun strategies you will see over the next few years is them trying to drive up volumes of their application server," Haff said. "Sun sees one of the ways to drive an increase in market share is to include its application server as a base offering. Sun clearly believes that the programming interface is clearly moving up to the Java application server."

Sun is including a suite of developer tools along with its Internet-based software with the new server in an effort to attract developers to its new platform, Ulander said.

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