Exec says Sun is a Linux believer

The perception that Sun Microsystems Inc. is a reluctant supporter of Linux is just plain wrong, according to Jack O'Brien, Sun's group manager for Linux strategy and marketing. Sun's Linux operating system for Intel x86 servers is an integral part of Sun's mix-and-match platform strategy, he said. With Linux and the different versions of Solaris, Sun offers users many choices of architectures. In this interview with SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, O'Brien describes how IT shops can mix and match their Linux- and Solaris-based servers, when to choose one and not the other, and why the popularity of Linux will continue to increase.

Why does the perception exist that Sun has been reluctant to adopt Linux? It's just that we didn't have any products. We view 2002 as our entry into the Linux and Solaris (Solaris x86 Platform Edition) for the x86 market, and 2003 as our expansion phase there. What would kick Linux adoption into high gear? The real key to widespread Linux adoption will not be on the technical side but in application availability, management, services...

and support. Those are the three areas where Sun is putting a lot of R&D. For example, in the application portfolio, we're having all our Sun ONE applications be supported on Linux. In management, we've got lots of enterprise-quality tools that we're supporting in multiple environments. Sun is a leader in end-to-end Unix enterprise support. We're extending that expertise to Linux as well. Why are so many companies interested in Linux today? Linux is just an enabler to buy Intel hardware. Why is this a good time for Sun to enter the Linux market? There are a couple of dramatic changes happening in corporate IT design and architecture. On the high end, we're seeing a lot of consolidation of applications in big vertically scaled servers. In the tier-one area, we're seeing companies being driven by the price performance of x86-based hardware and deploying it in horizontally scaled environments. So the high-volume, price-performance economics of the 32-bit Solaris/x86 are a real great fit for the current economic environment, and they fit with Sun's product strategy when we add Linux to it. Do you think that Linux adoption is going to increase? We (at Sun) think Linux adoption is going to continue, and we're working on a bunch of fronts to get Linux into more places in the data center. Some of the limitations [of Linux] are technical, but not really insurmountable. When the next release of the Linux kernel comes out in production, we'll see much better scalability, and a lot of technical problems will be addressed. That will make [Linux] work better on bigger servers. And when should they choose Linux? In addition to having Solaris available on SPARC, Sun has Solaris available on x86. For the buyer, the primary motivator is the purchase price of the machine and its price performance. So customers going that route can choose either Linux/x86 or Solaris/x86 and reap the benefits of that economic model.

We see a lot of customers who have investments in Solaris in their data center. For them, it's a great ROI proposal to leverage their investments in Solaris applications, management tools and systems management expertise to Solaris x86 on an Intel platform. Conversely, there are a lot of customers who are standardizing on Linux. There are a lot of applications available on Linux today that customers are standardizing on as well.

There is a segment of the customer base that values the open-source code, and there's a well-established model and community for that in the Linux area. How are businesses deciding when to use Solaris and when to use Linux?
In some cases, it's an obvious choice for customers to go the [Sun] SPARC/Solaris route. That would be, for instance, in a big vertically scaled system that goes up to or over 100 processors and has 64-bit computing. That's the right choice for addressing large amounts of memory and solving big database problems with high reliability, scalability and reliability of features.

Solaris has a very predictable life cycle model, where we deliver consistent updates and maintain binary compatibility from release to release and do continual application stress runs. Also, Trusted Solaris has much higher levels of certified security than are available on other operating systems. So, would you say that Linux is giving Sun a lot of strength in the low-end server market?
The addition of x86 and Linux to our server line gives us the strongest entry-level server product portfolio in the business. Our one-processor systems come in at under $1,000.

We can bring to bear world-class Unix with Solaris on both SPARC or x86. We can bring enterprise Linux with a lot of value added to it. Plus we've got the engineering depth to make sure that there is a lot of compatibility between the two. So, we've got the products in that category and a great investment protection story for having a heterogeneous environment.


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There's some debate about whether Linux is unseating Windows or Unix the most. Which side does Sun take?
We are seeing companies moving from Windows to Linux. Customers want to use x86 hardware, and their options there are Windows versus Linux. The licensing model for Linux offers compelling cost savings. That's one reason why IBM and HP have abandoned the entry-level server market in terms of supporting Unix and RISC-based processors there. We still offer a lot of entry-level servers based on SPARC Solaris, and we're gaining share there all the time.

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