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Sun, IBM Link up to Support Solaris on x86

In yet another sign the Scott McNealy era is over, Sun Microsystems has partnered with IBM to optimize and support Solaris on IBM's x86 System x and BladeCenter servers.

As part of the agreement, Sun  and IBM  will invest in testing and system qualification. Optimized drivers for Solaris on System x machines will be available within the coming quarter.

IBM servers that will support the Solaris OS include IBM BladeCenter HS21 and LS41 servers, and IBM System x3650, System x3755, and System x3850 servers. Solaris for x86 already runs on System x machines.

"I can't imagine this announcement ever happening when Scott McNealy was CEO," Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, told Internetnews.com. "Maybe the big news here is the cultural underpinnings of this deal reflect some of the changes going on in the industry."

In a conference call announcing the news, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said more than 10 million licenses for Solaris on x86 have been distributed in the past two years, and "there is no better validation for the success of those efforts than this ... It represents a tectonic shift in the marketplace for both of us."

Bill Zeitler, senior vice president in the IBM systems and technology group, added "It shows our commitment to offering our clients choice. There are many clients for whom Solaris is an excellent choice. Allowing them to use our platforms will expand the market for both of us."

It's no accident that only System x, IBM's x86-based machines, is part of the deal. System p, the ones running IBM's own POWER processors, are not included in it. POWER competes with Sun's own microprocessor, UltraSPARC. "I'm not going to speculate on what would happen with System p," Zeitler said.

But he did say that there were efforts under way to port OpenSolaris to IBM's System z mainframes. While the issue of the two companies cannibalizing each other's sales was raised on the call, and summarily dismissed, King thinks Solaris on mainframes could definitely be bad for Sun hardware sales.

"I can imagine that if that Solaris on mainframe offering becomes real, some traditional Sun customers like financial services or telcos would be very attractive targets for IBM to go into and say 'Hey, you've got all this aging Sun hardware; why not consolidate it on our mainframe?'"

But Sun defended its decision to make Solaris, a popular platform, available on a competitor's hardware. "Our view is when you make your product available on more platforms, you meet more opportunities. You give customers more of a chance to meet you," said Schwartz.

IBM also defended the notion of letting Solaris onto its hardware. "There was a point at the beginning of this journey where some said if you offer Linux, aren't you afraid people won't buy your other products? We sell more products than ever now," said Zeitler.

Rich Green, executive vice president of software at Sun, said he didn't think the lines are blurred by this agreement at all.

"We [IBM and Sun] both offer x86 microprocessors and Solaris in our product lines, but those alone don't describe the value offering that each [company] can bring to bear," he told Internetnews.com. "There's plenty of room for innovation left."