RealTime IT News

Sun Sets Solaris 10 Free

UPDATED: After more than a year of sneak peaks, nightly builds and beta tests, Sun Microsystems is set to formally announce the launch of its Solaris 10 operating system.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker is scheduled to outline the features, benefits and near-immediate partner support of the next-generation OS during its Network Computing '04Q4 event in San Jose Monday.

The platform has been available in bits and pieces since July 2003, courtesy of Sun's Software Express program and is compatible with SPARC-based servers as well as x86 environments from Intel and AMD.

Sun is also expected to announce that Solaris 10 will be available as a free download by January 31, 2005.

As previously reported, the operating system itself will not be available until the end of the year. Sun's promise of an open source version of Solaris is also not expected to emerge for several months after that.

The upgrade includes more than 600 improvements. The so-called "Big Five" additions to Solaris 10 include a partitioning technology (N1 Grid Containers); a diagnostic tool for system administrators (DTrace), Predictive Self Healing, Crypto Infrastructure based on the PKCS#11 standard and ZFS (short for Zettabyte File System), which gets its roots from the classic POSIX-compliant Unix file-system.

Solaris 10 also includes technology from the "government-grade" Trusted Solaris operating system as well as a Linux Application Environment (code-named Project Janus), which allows the OS to run Solaris and native Linux binaries. Already, Sun has prepared its developers with the release last week of beta versions of Java Studio 10 (JS 10) and Java Studio Enterprise 7 (JSE 7).

Sun's biggest change, however, is to its software pricing structure. The company started the trend with its Java Enterprise and Java Desktop offerings by offering a per-user license. With Solaris 10, subscription-based offerings will be offered with a range of support structures and service level agreements (SLAs).

The "Free" right to use includes a license for commercial use, security fixes and updates with registration. The Basic service package (USD$120 per CPU per year) adds in 90-days installation and configuration support as well as one individual online skills self-assessment per system. The Standard service (USD$240 per CPU per year) includes additional 5x12 phone support, one Web course and optional training credits. Finally, the Premium service (USD$360 per CPU per year) extends phone support to 7x24 and additional advanced technical and educational services.

Mark McClain, vice president of Software Marketing at Sun, said the variable pricing structure would catch Red Hat's customers off guard, including subscribers to Red Hat's Fedora Project, whose Core 3, codenamed Heidelberg debuted just last week.

"What Red Hat does today is offer a kick-the-tires version and then they go for free version with pay for a multi-tiered subscription support," McClain told internetnews.com. "We are doing the same thing but with even more aggressive and transitional offerings targeting not only Red Hat but HP and our own Solaris 9 customers. We expect a lot of people will choose our test version to show their bosses how well the system runs and then assess which service level they most feel comfortable with."

Michael Dortch, principal business analyst with IT consulting firm Robert Frances Group, suggests enterprise IT executives should find the technological strengths of Solaris 10 compelling, especially in concert with Sun's new pricing model.

"To be able to obtain free copies of the software for evaluation and pilot deployments, then to acquire relevant services if and as needed, should induce many IT executives who thought they didn't care about Sun or Solaris to rethink their attitudes," Dortch told internetnews.com. "And as anyone who's bought anything useful on a 'free trial' basis knows, if the solution has value, and you get to experience that value for free under a time-limited trial, you're incredibly unlikely to give them up once that trial is over."

The only downside for Sun, according to Dortch, is if the number of people who buy Sun hardware after experimenting with Solaris 10 is less than three percent.

"Even if hardware sales are lackluster, Sun still has a chance to build greater financial strength through services, which more than three percent of enterprises using Solaris 10 are likely to want and need," Dortch said. "It will be interesting to see if any Linux distribution companies, or other purveyors of enterprise-class operating systems, try to meet or beat Sun's new pricing model. If so, it could turn into a buyer's market for such software, something likely to warm the cockles of many budget-challenged IT executives' hearts."

Sun is also expected to unveil new hardware and software designed to improve data management such as its Sun Secure Application Switch N2000 Series and its StorEdge 6130 array, which serves as the little brother to the recently launched 6920.