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Two rivals, one destination

Sun and IBM both are riding the Linux bandwagon. Follow along to see where Solaris and AIX are headed next.

Sun and IBM both are riding the Linux bandwagon. Follow along to see where Solaris and AIX are headed next.

IBM and Sun Microsystems both want to rule the enterprise Unix market. And while both companies are vastly different, they tend to hop on similar bandwagons.

From symmetric multiprocessing to high-end RISC performance, IBM and Sun have invested millions in their respective Unix products to meet the most demanding customer needs. Most re cently, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and Sun CEO Scott McNealy have hitched a ride with the Linux parade. It's sure to be an interesting trip. Both companies hope to maintain certain proprietary ad vantages, while opening up their respective Unixes just enough to support mainstream Linux tools and user interfaces.

First and foremost, IBM AIX and Solaris were designed to run entire Fortune 500 divisions. Technically, that means both operating systems offer SMP, clustering, load balancing, 99.99-percent uptime, tera byte memory access, and ultrahigh levels of performance. Rival OSes claim to match many of those capabilities, but AIX and Solaris are head-and-shoulders above the competition, according to our experience and research.

For this story, we conducted customer interviews and combed through market research focused on the high-end Unix market. We also relied on our own experience, most recently running AIX 4.3.3 on an IBM RS/6000 Enterprise Server Model H80, which is considered a midrange system. We also tested Solaris 7 on a Sun Enterprise 250 server, which is an aggressively priced low-end server that offers a more reliable alternative to Windows NT and Windows 2000. When your customers are shopping for an enterprise operating system or e-business platform, what they're really looking for is a corporate computing system. That means steering clear of Intel and turning to mature RISC technologies. Sure, Solaris is available on Intel chips. And IBM's next-generation Unix, known as AIX 5L, will run on Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor. But the best Unix option for high-end customers today is Solaris on Sparc or AIX on PowerPC.

Of course, powerful RISC hardware comes with a price. Customers that are used to paying Wintel prices could balk when they're asked to purchase more expensive backup solutions, storage area networks, and other pricey gear that's designed to work with IBM and Sun hardware. But as the old cliché goes, you get what you pay for. And in the Unix/RISC world, customers pay for reliability and peace of mind.

On the client side, most customers can stick with traditional Wintel PCs to meet their productivity needs. For connectivity to the Unix servers, turn to the appropriate X Windows software. Ideal options include NetManage's ViewNow X Windows, Hummingbird Communications Ltd.'s Exceed and WRQ's Reflection. Linux, BSD and many Unix-based PCs, of course, come with an X Windows-based interface and don't require additional software.

Spoil The Engineers

But PC desktops aren't for true power users. To maximize the benefit of AIX and Solaris servers, you should steer engineers, software developers and computer-aided designers toward AIX or Solaris workstations. For IBM users, that means the RS/6000 43 and 44P models. On the Sun side, it's the Ultra family. Sun's current desktop champ is the Ultra 80, which packs up to four 450MHz Ultrasparc-II processors. Each processor comes with a generous 4MB of cache.