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Sun Challenges IBM to Port to Solaris

Sun Microsystems President and COO Jonathan Schwartz threw down the gauntlet in front of IBM, calling for the company to be more open and interoperable.

In a letter on his Web log addressed to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, Schwartz called for IBM to port its various software applications, including DB2, WebSphere and Tivoli, to run on Sun's Solaris 10 operating system for the x86 platform. Solaris 10 is slated to ship in March.

The outspoken executive claimed dozens of Fortune 500 Sun and IBM customers have asked IBM to support Solaris x86, and noted that software makers such as Oracle, BEA, SAP, Veritas, Computer Associates and others will support Solaris x86.

The lone holdout is IBM, Schwartz said, challenging the Armonk, N.Y., company's commitment to interoperability.

"We've repeatedly passed along customer interest in having IBM support Solaris 10 with WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Rational and MQSeries products," Schwartz said on his blog Friday.

"Customers have made repeated calls to you and your staff," he continued. "Those same customers have now asked me to begin communicating with you in a more public and visible way -- they'd like the choice to run IBM products on Solaris 10, and they're feeling that your withholding support is part of a vendor lock-in strategy. A strategy to trap them into IBM's proprietary Power5 platform only."

But IBM spokesman Steven Eisenstadt disputes that customer demand is what Schwartz said it is. Further, he said IBM will port its applications to Solaris if enough customers ask for it.

"We support many, many platforms," Eisenstadt told internetnews.com. "For customers that want us to support Solaris, we will do that. But we haven't seen strong enough market demand for it. It takes a lot of resources to take all the software and port it to other platforms. If and when the day comes that we see the customer demand for this platform support, we'll definitely revisit it."

Redmonk analyst James Governor agreed, noting that if demand exists, IBM will likely support Solaris. He also said demand for x86 Solaris is nascent, not mainstream.

"Don't forget that Sun stuttered with x86 Solaris support in the past, so a little caution is perhaps expected," Governor told internetnews.com. "All in all though, I expect increasing tensions in this regard. The 90s era of 'open systems' is behind us, as superstacks and integrated systems grow and Linux becomes the mandate."

Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice was more critical of Schwartz' stance, calling it "clearly self-serving." He pointed out that if IBM supported Solaris 10, Schwartz would turn around and trumpet the support as a clear sign of the momentum around Solaris 10 x86. Moreover, he said Solaris x86 has not been a focus platform for IBM or virtually any other ISV.

"There is certainly a kernel of truth that IBM doesn't want to go out of its way to assist a key competitor, but [IBM SVP] Steve Mills et al. are businessmen," Eunice told internetnews.com. "If they saw dollars on the table, they'd make a move to do the ports and pick up those dollars, just as they have done with Solaris on SPARC.

"But market volumes for Solaris 10 x86 currently number zero if you're talking production code rather than early release specials. So unless they wanted to be extra special nice to a competitor ... What's next, a Palmisano letter back asking why Sun doesn't port JES to POWER5?"

Schwartz issued the challenge, which can be read here, ahead of the Santa Clara, Calif., company's Feb. 1 quarterly news announcements.

In Solaris 10, Sun has pledged to provide a highly sophisticated OS with mainframe features, like logical partitioning, to appeal to financial firms and other businesses. AMD Opteron chips and Linux also factor into Sun's grand plan to "Take Back Wall Street."

Moreover, the company will soon open source Solaris, a move Schwartz said customers are welcoming.

"They love that we're open sourcing Solaris, and that we'll be the first open source vendor to offer a commercial version of our product with indemnification against intellectual property lawsuits," Schwartz said in his letter.

The war of words over which company is more open or interoperable is nothing new between IBM and Sun, long-time foes that compete on infrastructure hardware and software that power many of the world's electronic information systems. Ironically, it may have been IBM's competitive jabs that spurred Sun to open source Solaris.

Last February, IBM challenged its rival to work together on open sourcing Java. Big Blue reissued the request last April at an event at its Hawthorne, N.Y., facility.

IBM and Sun also met repeatedly to see if Sun would join the once IBM-led Eclipse, but to no avail.