In part 1 of this two-part article, the E-Commerce Times explored Linux’ potential to win market share from Solaris, Sun’s proprietary version of Unix, as Linux is used to power ever more mission-critical functions.
What is the future of Solaris in a world where Linux shares the limelight? In part 2, we will examine why the rise of Linux may not be the death knell for Solaris, and will analyze Sun’s rationale for offering Linux as an option on its Intel-based servers.
When Sun Shines on Linux
It may seem odd that despite Linux’ potential threat to Solaris’ viability, Sun has not been participating in Linux fear-mongering. In fact, the company recommends Linux to several of its customers, depending on their needs, Sun spokesperson Bill Moffitt told the E-Commerce Times.
Several factors may make Linux the right operating system choice for a customer, Moffitt said. He noted that Linux provides buyers with a rapidly changing architecture, the ability to obtain the latest technology as it is released, direct access to a community of developers who can provide support, and the ability to deploy on arbitrary x86 hardware.
Also, when customers are in need of edge services dependent on other projects, Linux might be the way to go, he added. This may include Internet-dependent services, such as conferencing or Web services. In addition, more applications are available for Linux than for Solaris on x86 boxes.
Unlike with Linux, Solaris users cannot download updates and other new technologies at the moment they first become available. “Because Solaris is fully tested and enterprise-ready [before any updates or new versions are released], it just takes longer for the technology to get baked into the OS,” Moffitt said.
One Throat To Choke
However, the proprietary OS does have its place within the enterprise. Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner described Solaris as ideal for big, fast servers that manipulate high-transactional, high-data processes requiring a high level of reliability and scalability.
“That’s why we position Solaris as a feature-filled, mature OS that is fully integrated, regression-tested, [and] can work on either 32- or 64-bit hardware platforms,” Moffitt said. “Solaris also comes with an application binary compatibility guarantee. Future versions of Solaris will always be able to run your applications — an important piece of investment protection.”
Moreover, Sun stands behind Solaris from both a support and a legal standpoint, Moffitt added.
“As Scott McNealy says, it’s a ‘one-throat-to-choke’ service,” he said. “If there’s a problem, you know who to call.”
The 64-Bit Question
There are other factors barring Linux’ progress into Solaris’ core strongholds as well. For example, although Linux is starting to make inroads in the 64-bit space, Sun’s SPARC hardware platform remains a top choice for companies that want to take advantage of this architecture — and 64-bit SPARC processors running Linux have not been widely used to date (*correction).
According to Moffitt, 64-bit processors provide greater scalability and more “future-proof” implementations than 32-bit chips. Because a 64-bit chip can handle up to 8 GB of main memory (vs. 4 GB in a 32-bit system), it can better manage processor-intensive tasks.
“If you have a large database system, you want to be able to have as much of that database in memory as possible” so that it can manipulate data faster, he said, adding that this feature allows a degree of expandability that a 32-bit architecture cannot match.
Also, contrary to popular belief, 64-bit servers need not be prohibitively expensive. A single-processor SPARC IIi 1U Sunfire V100 server with Solaris preinstalled costs $995, according to Moffitt.
Although both operating systems may be able to coexist, Solaris still is in a tricky position — and application developers may be its Achilles’ heel. According to Gardner, developers have powered much of the momentum behind Linux because no licensing fees are required (SCO’s ongoing lawsuit aside), enabling them to reap more profit from their applications.
Moreover, as applications become less OS-dependent over time, this trend could hamstring Sun’s ability to charge a premium for Solaris’ functionality, ultimately shrinking the system’s market share, Gardner told the E-Commerce Times. Sun’s stock price, which is hovering at about US$4 per share, indicates many Wall Street observers do not have sufficient confidence that Sun will overcome the Linux challenge without suffering damage to its profitability, he said.
Still, IDC analyst Jean Bozman told the E-Commerce Times that Linux’ supposed incursion on Unix market share does not apply exclusively to Sun. In fact, in the second quarter of 2003 (Sun’s fiscal fourth quarter), Sun regained the number one position in the Unix server market with a 33 percent share.
Indeed, the real enemy may not be Linux: Despite all the hype the open-source OS has received, IDC has predicted that in 2007, sales of Microsoft Windows servers will generate more than twice as much revenue as Linux server sales.
Meanwhile, Sun is developing a software strategy known as “Project Orion.” Gardner described Orion as a way of selling and managing a single package of server applications that provide businesses with a simplified, conclusive way to pay for software in one-stop fashion.
According to Bozman, Orion will be able to run on both Linux and Unix, much as Java does.
“There’s quite a bit more participation between Sun and Linux than people realize,” she said.
Perhaps, with Orion in place as a new revenue stream, a showdown between Solaris and Linux will seem beside the point. Instead, as Gardner said, “People will choose the right tool for the right job.”
*Editor’s Correction Note: In the original version of this article, we incorrectly stated, “and 64-bit SPARC processors run Solaris, not Linux.” In fact, SPARC processors can run Linux, though Linux-on-SPARC has not gained significant market share.