One year later, is Solaris 10 on track?

This week marks the one year anniversary since Solaris 10 was first released.  For Sun, Solaris 10 has been a bit of a milestone.

This week marks the one year anniversary since Solaris 10 was first released.  For Sun, Solaris 10 has been a bit of a milestone.  Solaris 10 represents the first time that the company's x86 and SPARC-based versions are actually fruit from the the same source code tree.  In the year since Solaris 10 shipped, the company released an open source version of the operating system (OpenSolaris) and has gotten support from some unlikely quarters including IBM and, more recently (albeit somewhat informally), HP.  But this week was also marked by a staggering $223 million quarterly loss (revenues were up).  Given the way Solaris 10 was one of Sun's earlier stakes in the ground in its bet the company strategy (where it's making most of its software free and even open sourcing its chip designs), I thought now would be a good time to catch up with Chris Ratcliffe, Sun's Director of Solaris Marketing, to get a report card on Solaris 10's progress and to see if it was looking as though the company's plan -- at least as far as it relates to Solaris -- was any closer to producing material results for the company. 

My podcast interview of Ratcliffe is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.  You can also stream it by pressing the play button in the built-in player above. 

The interview starts off with Ratcliffe quantifying Solaris 10's success by counting the number of downloads (3.7 million) of the operating system where the end-users subsequently licensed it for usage on actual systems.  However, since the OS is free and there's no real way of telling whether those end-users are running the operating system, I sought more concrete evidence of Solaris' traction by asking how many of those 3.7 million downloads were converted into an annual subscription for support (the Red-Hat Linux like revenue model for Solaris).  Sun offers a basic level of software support for $120 per CPU per year.  Currently however, the company doesn't disclose those numbers.  Ratcliffe did however say that the company is not only pleased with the revenues it's seeing, but it took a significant upturn in the last two to three months.  .

But is the trend enough to change the color of Sun's red ink to black?  Saying that 2006 is the first full year that  Sun's combination of hardware and software are finally solving its customers' problems in ways that no other such combination can and he expectation is for things to hockey stick this year.  For example, Ratcliffe cites published benchmarks that show Solaris running faster than Windows, Linux and other versions of Unix (running on any chip).  The net net, says Ratcliffe is that customers can do much more with way less and that between those performance improvements and the lower power requirements (and heat dissipation) associated with it's new Niagara Systems, customers can dramatically reduce their power consumption for the running the system as well as cooling them.  Of course, the "do-more-with-less" pitch works against a hardware company too.  If companies need fewer servers to handle their loads, one could argue that faster-cheaper systems equates to reduced revenues over time.  Ratcliffe addresses that question as well as one regarding Dell's failure (so far) to offer systems that are preloaded with Solaris?

Other ground covered in the interview: 

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