Solaris vs AIX: The threatscape

Solaris vs AIX: The threatscape

Summary: A Novell director, if that company turns out to hold the rights and obligations involved, cannot meet his responsibilities to shareholders other than IBM by leaving a potential billion or two in easy money on the table.

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The "threatscape" concept says in part that things which affect key suppliers affect your costs - i.e. that the possibility that Exxon might be motivated to buy out and shut down Sun has cost implications for the data center manager choosing whether to bet the business on Solaris/SPARC or AIX/Power.

Sun, of course, is a lot bigger than Zilog was and there are a lot more constraints on directors trading dirty deeds, so this isn't a real threat - but other factors may be.

On the SPARC/Solaris side all the threats affect the company, not its product choices. Within Sun the commitment to Solaris/SPARC is pretty absolute - and open sourcing just about everything has reduced the benefit a big competitor might get if someone launched a financial attack on the company. As a result the biggest current risk to Sun, and thus to SPARC/Solaris, is that something goes seriously wrong during the current transition to CMT/SMP computing - but a bet that looked pretty scary for Sun three years ago now looks like a done deal with the T2 exceeding expectations, Rock pretty much on track, and Solaris 10 setting new standards for both technology and reliability.

Because most third parties writing for Solaris cover their bets by ensuring portability across both Solaris for x86 and Linux, vendor lock in is as close to a non issue for the majority of Solaris/SPARC applications as you can get.

You do incur lock in, however, when you use unique Sun products like Sun Rays, start to depend on unique Solaris functionality like SMF, or build your data center to T2 SWaP levels. It comes down to this: if you want to use the new stuff that makes Solaris/SPARC a world beater, there are no second choices - meaning that a real problem at Sun could lead to technology abandonment and significant change for you.

With IBM most of these concerns are reversed. Thus corporate threats to IBM are all internal, but the commitment to AIX seems weak and I believe that problems with Power6 performance are mainly a consequence of software lag and an expected part of a planned across the board transition to Cell computing.

Application lock in is more of a threat with AIX than Solaris, largely because there are fewer vendors and, as a group, they tend to be more conservative. On the other hand IBM's increasing emphasis on Linux is pushing many of them in that direction and thus opening competitive opportunities - and reducing vendor lock in risks for users.

AIX is well behind Solaris and even Linux - and that has a risk reducing benefit because there's really nothing significant you can do with AIX that you can't switch to something else provided you're willing to abandon AIX specific hardware and minor AIX features in products sets like those from Tivoli.

More dangerously, however, the SCO case casts a long and unpleasant shadow over AIX. That case, fundamentally, is about the claim that IBM failed to honor its contractual obligation to maintain the confidentiality of information contained in, or derived from, licensed AT&T code - and was therefore initiated by an SCO letter lifting the licenses under which IBM offers AIX and related products to its customers.

That issue has not been settled - and evidence that IBM allowed one experienced AIX programmer to help with the mainframe Linux project at the Bvblingen skunk works would probably settle it for SCO.

Notice two things: groklaw will tell you that the case was about copying, but that's wrong -the whole threat to Linux thing was a legal maneuvre designed to establish a fair market value for SCO's claim against IBM. Groklaw will also tell you that the issue is over and gone, but that's wrong too: whoever ends up having the right to enforce the contracts, will also end up with a duty to do so - meaning that a Novell director, if that company turns out to hold the rights and obligations involved, cannot meet his responsibilities to shareholders other than IBM by leaving a potential billion or two in easy money on the table.

Notice further that this is a threat to AIX, not Linux - meaning that a data center manager adopting Linux need not care about this case at all, but one considering AIX should consult the company lawyers to get a good understanding of how real the risks are and what the cost consequences might be.

Topics: Linux, IBM, Open Source, Oracle

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  • Sun at risk.

    Quoting:

    "Within Sun the commitment to Solaris/SPARC is pretty absolute - and open sourcing just about everything has reduced the benefit a big competitor might get if someone launched a financial attack on the company."

    Yes, giving away things of value makes the company less interesting to those interested in making money.

    But there are still shareholders, many of whom/which take their lead from analysts. Who seem as interested in large, damaging short-term gains as CEOs looking for a large bonus before they are fired or flee.

    Sun's biggest risk is that shareholders, tired of good products which do not increase the share price much and which never seem to cover the losses between launchings, will demand that the company throw away future resources for present gains.

    The stock would then increase, and though current management seems immoveable, stockholders can cash out and get away before the company collapses on them.

    Every layoff announcement is a reminder of the risk, and there have been a number of layoff announcements.
    Anton Philidor
    • I agree - but

      there's a plan in place for that. Remember who Sun's biggest shareholders are? Under sufficient threat, they'll take it private rather than let someone wreck it.
      murph_z
      • "That's going to be a valuable property some day."

        The quote is Ollie's defense when Stanley chided him for buying the Brooklyn Bridge.

        Sun is 70% owned by institutional investors, and the largest holders are diversified funds:


        Shares Outstanding: 3,414,726,000
        Market Value $ 19,600,527,240


        INSTITUTIONAL
        Total Number of Holders 597

        % of Shares Outstanding 69.63%

        Total Shares Held 2,377,804,291

        Total Value of Holdings $14,147,935,531

        Net Activity (117,244,475)


        Top 5 Holders Shares Held

        AXA 313,985,534

        AXA is the holding company for an international financial services group focused on financial protection, insurance and asset management.

        LORD ABBETT & C... 247,082,170

        FMR LLC 220,405,883

        BARCLAYS GLOBAL... 107,390,038

        VANGUARD GROUP ... 98,785,878

        INSIDER TRADES
        Last 3 Mo. Last 12 Mo.
        Number of Insider Trades 29 58

        Number of Buys 2 7

        Number of Sells 27 51

        Net Activity (688,054) (6,138,514)


        That doesn't seem a group anxious to preserve Sun at any cost. Especially an increase in the stock price.


        Yes, Sun's cash means it could go private and pay off the privateers with a big dividend. But the very size of the payout implies outsiders would be attracted.
        Outsiders who/which will notice the sacrifice of assets and not be entirely sanguine about the long term.

        And once Sun is private and the still larger payout of return to public listing becomes the goal, will the owners ignore what would produce the highest future stock price to continue the policies which have so far not produced sustained profitability for many years?


        You're optimistic, Murph. Perhaps because you can see the correct course as far as improving products is concerned. But that's only one of the factors, and, with the wrong people making decisions, a minor factor.
        Anton Philidor
  • What do you know?

    Didn't you already admit that you had no idea what you were talking about in the Novell/SCO case and that Groklaw was right?

    At the time, I was very impressed that a columnist was willing to admit their ignorance of a topic they had been covering. I had hoped that a bit of humility might come from it. I guess not.

    Perhaps you haven't followed Groklaw's reporting (or the IBM case) as closely as you appear to believe. You might want to research them and the relevant laws before you spout off again on the subject.

    Some facts to get you started:

    Groklaw does not say "the case is about copying," they say the case is generally about creating enough FUD to enable extorting SCOSource licenses from Linux users. All the better to make SCO's Unix product more competitive against an otherwise free alternative.

    Your "fair market value" theory makes no sense to me. SCO came up with a market value in the billions of dollars. I don't think they really wanted the judgement to be based on the amount of code involved (~300 lines). That wouldn't get them the billions they wanted.

    Who says that buying the contracts requires you to continue a self-destructive lawsuit that is only dubiously connected to a bizzare mis-reading of the contracts involved (by people who weren't involved in writing them)? SCO's ludicrous case against Novell was on far sturdier ground than their IBM case, from what I've seen. At least there they had people who were in positions of authority on both sides who said they THOUGHT the copyrights were transferred, it just wasn't the people who wrote and signed the actual contract. In the IBM case, nobody who was seriously involved in the AT&T licensing program thinks the contracts mean what SCO claims they mean.

    Also, don't forget that everything IBM did was encouraged by (and at the time in the best interests of) Caldera, the company that is now calling itself SCO. Caldera were the ones who actually funded and put SMP support into Linux (one of the technologies they blame IBM for). That sort of thing hass got to weigh against them if/when it comes to trial.

    It's not IBM's fault that Caldera's incoming management team took a look a their balance sheet, misread their contracts, misunderstood the value of "their" Unix intellectual property and saw a billion dollar potential payout if they could only get a jury to side against Big Bad IBM. Over the last three and a half years those wackos have done nothing but prove what a bad idea the whole lawsuit-business plan model was.

    What shareholders would force another company to follow in SCO's shoes? To whom would SCO's prospects and outcome look desireable?

    I am not a lawyer, but at least I've read most of the available evidence and transcripts.

    How much research do you do before you start writing?
    cdurst
    • Maybe a bit

      1) I said that the Novell case had never seemed important to me - in part because I didn't believe any court would uphold their position. And i was wrong, the court did, and the result is relevant. ooops.

      2) however.. I also said that this affected SCO's right to sue, not whether they were right to begin with.

      That's the basis for my present belief that whoever ends up holding the right to sue - will also have an obligation to do so and the example set by SCO's lawyers on how not to proceed.

      Bottom line? if Novell "wins" it could make the victory at Heraclea seem like a good thing.
      murph_z
      • Let me get this straight...

        [i]I also said that [the Novell copyright win] affected SCO's right to sue, not whether they were right to begin with.[/i]

        OK, but it also didn't [b]make[/b] them right to begin with.

        Having seen their evidence, and understanding the technological and contractural parts of it, I don't believe they [i]were[/i] right about [b]any[/b] of it. The original lawsuit was all born of: technological illiteracy, wishful thinking, desperation, contract (and license) confusion and willful ignorance in the incoming upper management at Caldera/TSCOG. Not because they actually saw IBM doing anything immoral, injurious (to Caldera) or inappropriate with Linux. They just hoped that if they could dig in the refuse of a rich company long enough they could find something to tar them with in front of a jury. Oh yeah and also scare the Autozone's, DaimlerChrysler's and EV1's of the world to pay them $700/seat for Linux.

        [i]That's the basis for my present belief that whoever ends up holding the right to sue - will also have an obligation to do so and the example set by SCO's lawyers on how not to proceed.[/i]

        You seem to be saying that the failure of the Novell case (and the fact that it didn't go to the heart of the IBM case) causes you to think that the IBM case is valid. So valid, in fact, that any compay that ends up with the "right to sue" would be obliged by their shareholders to pursue it.

        And then you seem to assume that the only thing wrong with the case is some particulars about the way SCO pursued it, and that having seen them utterly fail to prove their case, someone else could do it right. All they would have to do is eliminate the complete contempt that SCO has shown the entire legal process.

        What you seem to be ignoring is: the utter lack of evidence in their case, the contracts and licenses (including the GPL) that would render the case moot, and that any prior SCO screwups in the case would sill be binding on whoever acquires the right to sue.

        You are also missing the obvious "goodwill value" that would accrue to anyone who publicly drops and utterly repudiates the entire case and the line of inquiry it rode in on. Novell could really use some positive karma in the FOSS community right now if it wants to get back all the developers that it pi**ed off with the MSFT patent deal. That goodwill value would far outweight the value of attempting to scratch the SCO IP-lottery ticket.
        cdurst
        • I think ..

          that you're making a lot of unfounded assumptions about motivation - and that you've missed the meat of the thing entirely: this case is about AIX, not Linux. SCO's lawyers tried to use Linux to value consequence, not cause.
          murph_z
          • well ...

            [i]this case is about AIX, not Linux.[/i]

            I'd agree that the case is "about AIX, not Unix," since TSCOG never accused IBM of putting into linux any Unix code, (or anything related to the design or API), that was written or owned by Caldera, SCO, Novell, USL, or AT&T.

            But AFAIK the only part of the case that is "about AIX, not Linux" is the minor part that claims that IBM continued to distribute copies of AIX after TSCOG purported to cancel IBM's "irrevocable, fully paid-up, perpetual right to exercise all of its rights," for having put bits of AIX into Linux.

            (See http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031107212034397)

            But the Court has already ruled that TSCOG had no right to do that, Novell used the power of its contract with SCO to waive that cancellation at the time, and Novell owns the Unix copyrights, so it's not even something any successor in interest could try again. Even if that turns out to be Novell, what do the contract words "irrevocable, fully paid-up, [and] perpetual" mean if someone else can cancel it so easily?

            [i]you're making a lot of unfounded assumptions about motivation [/i]

            What assumptions? It was their business plan. The IBM lawsuit was supposed to sell millions of SCOSource licenses. When the evidence failed to appear (or was discredited), the income from their license scheme vanished and they entered their downward spiral. It didn't help that they had to stop selling their Linux product as a side-effect of the lawsuit. But SCOSource was where they thought the profit replacement would come from.

            Where do you see any evidence of them attempting to "value consequence" in the court case(s)? You seem to be claiming the whole IBM lawsuit is all about justifying the value of their claim for damages?

            I haven't seen them file any documents that attempt to justify or calculate their final proposed damages. That's the sort of thing that has to wait until after a trial verdict anyway.
            cdurst
  • RE: AIX vs Solaris (5)

    "Thus corporate threats to IBM are all internal, but the commitment to AIX seems weak and I believe that problems with Power6 performance are mainly a consequence of software lag and an expected part of a planned across the board transition to Cell computing.
    "

    IBM is weak on POWER and AIX based on what? Power6 with Power7 on the way? A major revision of AIX about to go gold? A multimillion dollar DARPA contract (that SUN lost BTW) for supercomputers based on Power and AIX?

    I was hopeful that you would at least salvage the appearance of impartiality by throwing IBM a bone on this one since:

    +IBM has been continuiously profitable for many years now, Sun wavers in and out of profitablility

    +IBM has a market cap 7x Sun

    +IBM has a much stronger top to bottom consulting orginization than Sun

    It seems like you are still content to throw out FUD not justified by any evidence or even any explantions.

    "Notice further that this is a threat to AIX, not Linux - meaning that a data center manager adopting Linux need not care about this case at all, but one considering AIX should consult the company lawyers to get a good understanding of how real the risks are and what the cost consequences might be."

    If you look up FUD in the dictionay, this would be it. Make a statement like this based on your own interpretitions of the work Groklaw did. Why not post your opinions on Groklaw and see what people think in the marketplace of ideas? It might make for an interesting follow up article.
    civikminded
    • Dear CIvikminded:

      Sorry, but if you read what I wrote you'll see that I agree with you about IBM's strength - although obviously not about AIX, and probably not about Power7. Time will tell, but here's betting that the Power6 fulcrum after which more and more of the Power design looks and acts like Cell and less and less like Power5.

      umm, and just to demonstrate how forgiving I am of your allegiance to groklaw, let me point you at something I wrote for Linuxworld - so long ago that it's off their site - but there's a copy here:
      http://www.winface.com/scolaw.html

      Guess what? I was right then too.
      murph_z
      • Uncle

        Allright murph, good debate. Look forward to the next article.
        civikminded
      • Right? About what?

        [i]Guess what? I was right then too.[/i]

        In the linked article your premises weren't facts. They were: unproven speculation, ignorance about the Linux kernel deisgn and/or a misunderstanding of the case and the definition of source code copying (as defined by U.S. copyright and case law). [Details below]

        Consequently, your conclusions were unsupported, and all your predictions failed come true.

        [b]What exactly were you right about?[/b]

        -- The Details --
        Your premises:

        (Quotes from: http://www.winface.com/scolaw.html)

        [i]In this particular case the basic wrong alleged by SCO is that IBM licensed proprietary Unix information for use in AIX and then improperly released that information to the Linux community.[/i]

        That may have been the original allegations, but nothing of the kind ever showed up in court. After years of discover, the only evidence of code release that TSCOG found was release of code written by IBM (and perhaps subcontractors) that was never a part of SystemV Unix. It was code that was released as an added feature of AIX beyond the base SystemV code, it was not code that IBM "licensed" from TSCOG. TSCOG's claim relied on purposely misreading the license in a bizarre way.

        [i]IBM's ... Linux to ... System 390 [port] took place at the Bvblingen skunk works ... [which employed] people who worked on ... both Linux and AIX[/i]

        Immaterial to copyright infringement. Copyright infringement requires copying from a copyrighted work and releasing it without the author's permission. I guess you were thinking of Trade Secrets law, which was never a part of the case.

        [i]... general release of this code to the Linux community would most likely lie through SuSe first and Red Hat second, as these two firms were the first major players to integrate support for IBM's non x86 Linux into their source code libraries.[/i]

        The case never had anything to do with ports to the System390 or any non-x86 platform. (TSCOG did attempt to add an AIX on Power claim ... too late, but it was once again based on a bizarre twisting the literal meaning of the words in a contract. Despite plenty of evidence that even Caldera interpreted the contract differently at the time.)

        Your conclusions/predictions:

        [i]t is my expectation, therefore, that SCO will have little difficulty proving that IBM's Linux ports for its Z, I, and P Series machines were heavily influenced by its staff's knowledge of, and access to, the AT&T Unix source now owned by SCO.[/i]

        Well, that never happened. And not because of Novell. This lawsuit dragged on for year after year of TSCOG repeatedly going back to the courts saying, "we can't prove anything unless we get another billion lines of internal code from IBM." That doesn't sound easy. Besides "heavily influenced" is nowhere near the meaning of "copyright violation".

        [i]It's my belief, therefore, that both sides understand this is more likely to end through negotiation than in a judgment for or against SCO.[/i]

        Well, that never happened. From the context it looks like you weren't even referring to the real case, but rather to the "AIX on Power" claims which were rejected by the court and never made it in.

        [i]It is true that SuSe and Red Hat probably have decisions to make in terms of trying to work with SCO[/i]

        Well, SuSe (bought by Novell), and Red Hat both filed suit against TSCOG for Slander of Title. Not what I would call, "working with SCO."

        [i][IBM was supposed to stop shipping AIX on 6/13/2003] If there's no settlement or continuance before that, then anyone directly or indirectly paying IBM for AIX should probably seek legal advice before making that check payable to IBM.[/i]

        Well that turned out to be pure FUD, and a worthless recommendation.

        [i]None of the choices [facing IBM that] I've been able to think of seem very attractive. ...[/i]

        And none of them happened either. None of them ever even came close to being rumored to perhaps someday happening (outside of your article).

        [i]... I'm sure they'll either settle, enter into serious negotiations and thus get SCO to lift the deadline, or come up with a better overall answer.[/i]

        Which didn't happen either.

        Where's the "right" part?

        I must have missed it.
        cdurst
  • What is SCO/IBM All About?

    <<groklaw will tell you that the case was about copying, but that???s wrong...>>

    Yes, that must be why Brent Hatch told Judge Kimball [IBM-176] on June 8, 2004:

    "... this case is about source code, and it's about our allegations and contentions that IBM has moved source code that was copyrighted and owned by us under which IBM had the contractual obligations to us not to use elsewhere, and they've moved it to Linux."
    sk43999