LinuxWorld: Sun asks IBM to preload Solaris

Fear of open-source success creates strange requests in operating-system world.

Linux is creating lots of havoc in the operating-system world. So much so, in fact, that Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy has asked IBM to preload the "Solaris on Intel kernel" on every IBM NetFinity server the company ships, says Jul Soria, IBM's worldwide manager of alliance development.

And in an unusual turn of events, IBM actually is "examining the business case" for Solaris on Intel, although an IBM spokesman for NetFinity says there is "no way" IBM will preload Solaris on its PC servers.

Coincidentally, IBM this week will announce worldwide support on NetFinity servers for Linux, the spokesman says.

IBM and Sun have been engaged in a complex dance since early 1998. Soria says IBM's software and Sun's hardware businesses struck a relationship in Q1 of last year, and built a practice of selling IBM's e-business software on Solaris about 10 months ago.

IBM has recruited 36 Sun resellers since then and is expanding its business into Canada in conjunction with Access Graphics, a Sun distributor. IBM also has created a sales force that is compensated only for selling solutions on Solaris, which Soria says is a first in the history of IBM. The IBM sales force works in tandem with Sun's hardware sales force targeting Fortune 500 companies, and with Sun resellers and IBM business partners on what IBM calls "foundation" or smaller companies. Sales reps are paid more when the business goes through partners rather than direct from IBM.

Analysts say Sun thought it had convinced IBM to license Solaris on Intel last autumn. However, the day before Sun launched Solaris 7, its first 64-bit operating system, IBM announced Project Monterey -- a shrink-wrapped Unix that will combine technology from SCO, IBM's own AIX, and Sequent Computer Systems. With Intel's blessing, Sequent ended its relationship with Compaq Computer on Digital Unix to join Project Monterey. IBM announced this month that it will buy Sequent.

Sequent is planning systems of up to 256 Intel Merced processors that will run Unix applications on some processors and Windows NT on others, allowing applications to share data via Sequent's NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access) technology. Sequent reports that Sun is working on a software-only competitor to NUMA, although Sun declined to comment.

But Soria says that while the "low-hanging fruit" for IBM's Solaris business is on Sun's Ultrasparc platform, the long-term possibilities for Solaris on Intel are intriguing. "IBM and Sun have a common enemy -- Microsoft," Soria says.

Both Soria and Sun resellers point to Sun's growing relationship with Intel, which changed the Unix landscape again this month when it announced that Solaris on Intel will be one of three operating systems -- along with Linux and Windows NT -- to go through a new white-box channel Intel is creating for Internet service providers.

Intel is writing drivers for Solaris and is tuning the operating system, while Sun is helping Intel with sales training. "This is a big change for us and a welcome one," said Sun senior marketing director Brian Croll when Intel made its announcement. "Any hesitancy from developers has not been from a technical standpoint but about whether there's a volume channel in place. This will help Solaris get to critical mass."

At GEIT Distribution Group's New Frontiers conference this month, IBM paraded several Sun resellers that claim to be doing well selling IBM e-business software. By the end of this quarter, IBM will field offerings for Web self-service, e-commerce, business intelligence and business integration through StartNow for Solaris packages that include hardware, software and services and can be up and running within 30 days. "We're winning accounts where IBM has applications on the mainframe and customers are rehubbing some of them on Solaris," Soria says. "There's a midmarket dilemma-where customers are running BackOffice on NT, they're pulling it out and replacing it with IBM Suites."

Sun-Netscape Alliance executives, who also were recruiting resellers in Keystone for software that competes against IBM's, say Solaris on Intel is not part of the Alliance.

Clearly, Solaris on Intel is not a volume OS yet. Phil Mogavero, VP of Data Systems West-a Sun, Oracle and Netscape reseller-says when necessary he preloads Solaris in his own configuration centre. "Sun has been more aggressive with Solaris on Intel in response to Linux," says Mogavero. "It's a logical move. And if IBM and Sun are more closely aligned, that's a credit to Bill Gates."

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