Sun Commits to Solaris x86 (Again)

Sun Microsystems’ sometimes tepid love affair with taking its server operating system out of its own boxes has heated up again.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant Friday said it will begin to sell a standalone version of its Solaris 9 server operating system for non-Sun hardware.

The software, based on Intel x86 chip architectures, is expected to ship in January for $99 for a single CPU system. Sun said there will also be a $20 “early access” edition for testing purposes. Previous versions of the Solaris OS for x86 were included for free as part of the company’s Media Kit.

The company also said it will offer product updates as well as support at $75 per month for desktop systems and $1,275 a year for lower-end servers. Service will be sold separately.

While, Sun would rather sell its own boxes with its own SPARC chips, the decision to continue to support x86 is part of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant’s overall Solaris strategy.

This is not the first time Sun has stood behind x86 for Solaris. After initial interest sparked by developers, the company “defered productization” of the Solaris 9 Intel version in January. After some public outcry, Sun met with a group of customers and developers including a group known as the “Secret Six” to try to work out a compromise.

The Secret Six is a group of passionate users of Solaris on Intel chips who were elected on online discussion boards to meet with Sun.

The debate came to a boiling point last month, when members of Solaris-x86.ORG fired off an open letter to Sun CEO Scott McNealy blasting him and the company for waffling on the decision to support x86 for newest version of Solaris.

The talks proved fruitful and in August, Sun said it would support Solaris 9 on Sun x86 hardware for its LX50 server.

“We gradually put together the strategy, which we’ve begun to realize with the release of our new LX50 servers,” said Sun VP, director of Operating Systems and acting director of the Solaris Group Graham Lovell.

Lovell said the decision shows how Sun can listen to its developers and that with the interest comes business opportunity. He said the company expects to sell a reasonable amount of copies of its standalone version of x86 Solaris 9 – somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 on the conservative end with a potential of 100,000 copies.

Multiply those estimates by $99 for the 1 CPU software and an unknown amount being charged for multiple CPUs and you have an instant cash cow for Sun.

“There are three main pillars to our strategy,” said Lovell. One is to sell complete systems like our LX50. The second is our ability to sell additional products such as software such as the new standalone version for Solaris 9. And third is our capacity to sell separate licenses to manufacturers. Down the line we may get computer makers like Gateway or Dell to sell our software in their boxes.”

He said Hewlett-Packard is also a possible candidate to license its Solaris OS but not probable considering its strong ties to Microsoft .

Save-Solaris-x86 spokesperson John Groenveld says the task now is to hold Sun accountable for their decision.

“I think it’s an excellent first step, and I think Graham is in a good position to make some positive changes,” said Groenveld. “Among the engineering community, I think there has always been support for Solaris on Intel. They understood the value of it. There is a potential of a revenue stream and no shortage of companies interested in Solaris on x86 equipment. I think the open letters and the meetings with senior management have empowered people in the trenches and Scott and Jonathan (Schwartz, executive vice president of Sun’s Software Group) will be pleased about putting the company in the right direction.”

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