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Is Sun the 'Dot' in Dot-Com Again?

Sun Microsystems  is now sitting at the very heart of the Internet's dot-com infrastructure, thanks to a recent upgrade by domain registrar VeriSign .

Is it time to call Sun the dot in dot-com again (as its ads suggested)? Or is the dot-com related hosting business still mostly the domain for Linux, FreeBSD and Windows?

The latest development is leaning Sun's way. VeriSign, which will likely be running the .com registry until at least 2012 after a recent ICANN board decision, recently upgraded to Sun hardware and Sun's Solaris 10 operating system.

Solaris 10 and Sun's AMD Opteron-based, x86 64-bit Sun Fire X2100 servers are helping to power VeriSign's Advanced Transaction Look-up and Signaling (ATLAS) system.

The ATLAS system handles over 15 billion .com and .net transactions per day. (VeriSign's ATLAS system also runs on "multiple operating systems" beyond just Solaris as well.)

Although Sun's vendor relationship with VeriSign isn't new, the upgrade does bring the two to a new level.

John Fowler, EVP for the Network Systems Group at Sun, told internetnews.com that Sun's historical relationship with VeriSign was founded on its Solaris/SPARC system.

"In recent years, VeriSign has been more focused on infrastructure using Intel-based hardware and Linux," Fowler said. "So this sale represents a renewed relationship rather than an entirely new one."

Part of VeriSign's renewed deal with ICANN stipulates that VeriSign invest in improving the .com infrastructure. A VeriSign spokesperson, however, noted that the Sun deployment is not part of any ICANN-mandated improvement.

"The 2100 [Sun Fire X2100] is here because it has good RAS (reliability, availability, scalability) at low TCO (total cost of ownership)," a VeriSign spokesperson told internetnews.com.

According to Sun's Fowler, the Sun Fire X2100 is the fastest single socket server in the world. He claimed that Solaris 10 has exceptional performance capabilities, especially around its ability to process packets very quickly with low overhead.

"The combination means that VeriSign can deliver higher performance levels with less equipment and more power efficiency than in the past," Fowler said.

VeriSign said the X2100 is a generic replacement for its currently deployed 1Rack Unit, 2P (processor) servers.

Sun's "Niagara" 8-core T2000 server is also currently being evaluated by VeriSign.

"The choice for and adoption rate [of the T2000] would be a function of TCO and RAS," the VeriSign spokesperson said; VeriSign currently runs Solaris 10 on other (non X2100) equipment as well.

Sun's renewed success with VeriSign and its dot-com registry may be a "foot in the door" for Sun and the wider world of domain registrars. And it just may signal the return of Sun as a major provider of dot-com infrastructure. During the late 1990s, Sun's revenues took a hit when many start-ups that had purchased Sun hardware closed down.

"Sun has a long historically strong position with domain registrars," Sun's Fowler said. "We expect that our product lineup with Solaris 10, Opteron, and SPARC will continue that position."

At least one analyst agrees that Sun's prospects across the dot-com name space and the hosting market are bright with the deal.

"Yes, the VeriSign adoption of Sun Solaris provides creditability," Darin Stahl, research lead at Info-Tech Research Group, told internetnews.com.

"However, VeriSign is just another in a long line of large enterprises who have come to rely on Sun Solaris' ability to quietly serve transaction and data-intensive processes securely on a 7x24 basis. "

In Stahl's opinion, the challenge for Sun is to bring awareness of Solaris and its ability to securely and reliably host the Utility Infrastructure pursued by leading organizations out of darkened server rooms.

"Sun must find a way to bring Solaris into the minds of IT leaders the same way that Linux and Windows are considered as a potential key component of their cost-effective mission critical infrastructure," Stahl added.

A quick look at Netcraft's listing of the top 50 hosting providers based on reliability shows few Solaris entrants. Linux, FreeBSD and Windows dominate the listing. Solaris does however have the 'blessing" of the Holy See as the OS that serves the Vatican's website.

"The lack of attention that Solaris receives means many enterprises might not consider the role it can play within the utility Infrastructure," Stahl said.

"Sun Solaris is not only a viable player in the hosting market, in many ways Solaris is a leader - just not in market share."