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Sun Solaris push may not benefit VARs, experts warn

It's going to take more than support programs to push sales of Solaris 10 via the channel, analysts say.

Analysts have mixed reactions to last week's announcement by Sun Microsystems that it will boost its support services and restructure its reseller programs for the Solaris 10 operating system (OS) as it seeks to more aggressively compete with commercial-grade Linux products, like Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.

In its push to penetrate further into the x86, x64 and SPARC platform market, Sun announced a slew of programs and initiatives, among them the Web Tier Advantage Program designed to move customers quickly and safely to more efficient environments for Web-tier deployments. Another is its Global Migration program which, Sun hopes, will get customers of IBM's AIX, HP-UX, Tru64, VMS, Red Hat and Novell SUSE Linux to replace their existing OS with Solaris 10.

"The reseller and systems integrator channel delivers a tremendous amount of volume and value in the x86 space,"
Tom Goguen
Vice President, Solaris MarketingSun Microsystems

Another program, the Sun Connection service, enables customers to provision Solaris, Red Hat and SUSE systems, manage updates, including patches; and it offers six new online classes to help system administrators with configuration changes and eventually redeploy systems. To make that program even more attractive, the company says it will offer support subscription rates that are considerably lower than its competitors.

"Depending upon the support level that you're looking at, our support subscriptions vary on the order of 20% to 50% less expensive than a comparable Red Hat support subscription," said Tom Goguen, Sun's vice president of Solaris software.

Goguen also said support subscriptions start at $240 for a basic service plan for a one- or two-socket system. The premium support plan starts at $1,080 for systems with three or more sockets.

Goguen said that, by structuring pricing this way, Sun had shrunk from the number of support pricing categories from eight to two, to make support simpler for both customers and VARs.

Targeting existing Solaris customers who want to upgrade to Solaris 10, customers who want to replace a commercial Linux OS with Solaris 10, and customers who want to run Solaris as well as other OSs via Solaris' upcoming virtualization improvements, Goguen said Sun will depend on VARs and is looking to sign up new partners to support its Solaris OS effort.

"The reseller and system integrator channel delivers a tremendous amount of the volume and value in the x86 space, and so it's important for us to participate in that channel and create a real business opportunity there," Goguen said.

Al Gillen, IDC's vice president of system software, said Sun has a market opportunity with their OS because it's closer to and works better with Unix than Linux for some platforms.

"Their product is a Unix product, and in particular for customers who are using Solaris on SPARC hardware, Solaris on x86 is actually a very viable alternative for those customers," Gillen said.

Forrester Research's senior analyst, open source, Michael Goulde, said Sun's challenge is distribution.

"It's very hard to compete against such a pervasive distribution channel such as Linux has. Anything Sun can do to broaden its distribution is going to be to its benefit," Goulde said.

"Solaris is still a Sun product and that's different from Linux," Goulde said. "When VARs consider Linux they are very aware that if one particular distribution is not meeting their needs they can always move over to another Linux distribution without much difficulty, whereas if they are following a Solaris track and switched to something else it would be a big move."

Open-licensing Solaris under GPL v3 is a significant step toward expanding the ISV and developer ecosystem for Solaris, Gillen said.

"It's a bold move on their part because it has the potential to create offspring, which will compete with the base Solaris product," Gillen said. "On the other hand they recognize that the community development model has become very popular in the Linux space and they need to have some way of competing with it and frankly I'm not sure there are a lot of options other than going with the GPL form of the product," Gillen added.

For VARs, Gillen said, selling Solaris will be up to the customer.

"The VAR is going to put together the package that has the most appeal in the industry, and if the applications that the customers want are on Solaris on x86, the VARs are probably going to offer that product. If the applications that the customers want are not there it's less likely that that's going to happen," Gillen added.

In the meantime Sun has added new security features, including Solaris Trusted Extensions, which uses labeling security technology to protect data. The company also announced virtualization improvements, such as the Logical Domains, which allow customers to provision and run up to 32 OS instances on each UltraSPARC T1-based system.

Running inside the Logical Domain instances, Solaris Containers allow the isolation of software applications and services, enabling the creation of many private execution environments within a single instance of Solaris.

Goguen said the next version of Solaris 10 will include the open source Xen hypervisor technology and will have the broadest set of virtualization offerings in the industry allowing customers to run Solaris and a number of commercial Linux distributions and even Microsoft Windows at the same time, side by side on the same x86 system.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kevin Fogarty, News Director

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