Sun Edges Towards A Linux Binge

Sun Microsystems Monday chatted up its Linux strategy with more talk of bringing its appliances to where it counts most: the “edge.”

The company’s new line of Sun Cobalt Linux boxes, due out early in the second quarter of this year, are expected to expand the use of Linux beyond its existing appliances. The low-priced, horizontally scalable servers are expected to compete directly with similar software offerings from IBM and Microsoft .

This doesn’t mean that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant is abandoning its Unix roots or its Solaris/SPARC strategy.

“We wouldn’t dream of giving up that asset,” says Sun Content Delivery And Edge Computing vice president and general manager Steve DeWitt. “Solaris is still one of the best Unix platforms out there. You can count on your fingers or toes the number of companies using that 64-bit architecture. Let’s face it, Microsoft is pushing the same stuff with no R&D involved and IBM’s model is go wherever the marketing hype is. Sun is a systems company and Linux is a part of the evolution. It’s about making developer’s life easy.”

DeWitt is quite the “edge” evangelist. As former CEO of Cobalt Networks, which Sun acquired in December 2000, DeWitt says the edge of the network is evolving rapidly.

“We see the edge infrastructure as green fields for Sun.” says DeWitt. “The axis here is that companies need to be delivering costs less than the something that is being delivered. If it costs me $25 per subscriber per year for instant messaging, it’s not cost effective.”

The Penguin Walk

In what it called a three-pronged approach, Sun plans in the future to roll out a full Linux operating system; expand its line of Sun Cobalt Linux appliances and craft a new family of low-end Linux/x86-based systems; and endear itself to the Linux community by offering developers code to its Solaris operating environment software.

The rest of Sun ‘s Linux strategy includes:

  • Sun will disclose details of its new family of general purpose, low-end Linux servers, including single and multiprocessing systems capable of running the thousands of native Linux and Java applications
  • The Sun Cobalt line will be sold along side Sun’s family of Sun Fire and Netra servers running the Solaris operating environment on the SPARC platform
  • Sun is shipping built-in Linux compatibility with Solaris today, enabling it to run Linux applications on any Solaris-based system. It also sculpted a Linux compatibility assurance tool (LinCAT)
  • GNOME will become the preferred desktop for Solaris when GNOME 2.0 begins shipping later this year
  • Sun will provide native support of Linux on SPARC systems for both the telecommunications and embedded markets. companies such as SuSE and Lineo already support Linux native on Sun’s SPARC microprocessors
  • Sun will support Linux on its key Sun StorEdge line of storage systems and software

To top it off, Sun will provide Linux-oriented services — not just code and infrastructure. The company already released a tool, ABIcheck, to help developers assure compatibility between Linux releases. ABIcheck was ported from Solaris to Linux and released under an open source license.

Dark Horse

Despite its wrangling in the Linux space, Sun says one of its greatest challenges come from Linux-in-a-box companies like Red Hat .

The Durham, NC-based company, like so many other Linux publishers, has an off the shelf solution for the Linux operating system. In a world where CDs are cheap and fast to produce, that could pose a serious threat to Sun’s development in the sector even with the constant changes to open source code.

But Sun says its sees the opportunity in the developer world where it maintains a strong foothold and will continue to focus on XML and other services to compete with the Red Hat’s of the world.

“We often got questions like, ‘Will you offer the Red Hat with fun stuff?'” says DeWitt. “The answer is that We think there is great value in our enterprise-grade Linux distribution solution. That’s something you can’t get in a CD.”

Currently, Sun is not a member of the Open Source Developers Lab’s (OSDL) Linux projects, but says it plans to. The company is also shifting its workforce to give more emphasis on Linux initiatives.

The company says to expect it to build on its Linux strategy with more announcements coming up at its JavaOne conference this month in San Francisco.

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