Sun Microsystems' new LAMP stack bundle may give Sun partners an alternative toolset to woo customers weary of paying top dollar for commercial application servers and middleware.
Developers and testers can use the stack for free. Production versions start at $999 per server. That try-before-you-buy model is attractive to customers and VARs alike, said Paul Hinz, chief architect of GlassFish Portfolio. Many companies will use GlassFish to build and test code and then either deploy on production BEA/Oracle or on an IBM WebSphere infrastructure. They may even find that GlassFish meets most of their needs for a lot less money. That is certainly what Sun and Sun-partisan partners hope to see.
"This is a win for us and for customers who get a container that is inexpensive to support and is as compliant as the other guys. We actually found it to be more compliant in that the code generated by GlassFish is more portable. They have a more strict interpretation of the specs," said Steve Giovannetti, chief technology officer for Hub City Media, an Edison, N.J., Sun software specialist.
"Many companies are looking for a secondary stack after BEA or IBM and want a low-cost platform," Hinz said. "They say 80 to 90% of our apps don't have to run on a high-end Java EE stack. If you're a big company and you're told to use Oracle and Weblogic in production, GlassFish lets you start developing stuff today and pay for it later."
Sun has a checkered past in open source. It dallied a long time before accepting Linux -- for many years it saw the open source operating system as a threat to Sun Solaris. More recently, it embraced LAMP, although some in the open source world came to see that embrace more as an attempted stranglehold. They point to the recent and loud departures of the MySQL co-founders a year after Sun bought MySQL for $1 billion.
Hinz said that it's natural for entrepreneurs to leave after their company is acquired, but many in the Sun partner ranks said the departures -- and the fact that MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius slammed Sun on his way out -- are a bad sign. "There's a lot of chatter on this out there. People are ticked," said one long-time Sun partner in the mid-Atlantic region.
And on the other side, many traditional Sun partners that are used to selling the company's high-margin hardware see current CEO Jonathan Schwartz's continuing public blessing of free and near-free software as counter productive. These partners, after all, want and need to "sell stuff" in order to survive.
Giovannetti said it all depends on where VARs sit in the Sun partner world. For his company, which focuses on providing services around Sun software, the GlassFish bundle is a potential gold mine. "With some apps, we blow the doors off WebSphere and BEA in performance -- you run fewer instances of GlassFish to run the same amount of traffic."
Hub City Media sees a booming business around Sun Identity Manager and related software but agreed that traditional "fulfillment channel partners" will have a hard time with a free or cheap bundle. "They'll want to know where the margin is for them. In my view, though, the customer may pay less for the product but they'll spend the dollars left over to get the [return on investment] up, to migrate applications and do other work."
VARs could use the GlassFish Portfolio notion to help companies that are "trying to get a handle" on their open source deployment, Hinz said. "A big company may have a hundred undocumented deployments on LAMP. Then, the developers leave and their replacements have to figure out how to patch and support those systems."
The fact that the stack competes head on with analogous pieces of the Oracle middleware and tools stack further drives home the perception that Sun and Oracle are becoming more competitors than partners. The two companies were joined at the hip for many years, but as Oracle seemed to embrace Linux over Solaris, and even Hewlett-Packard or Dell hardware over Sun, it is clear that the relationship is changing for the worse.