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Sun's Orion pricing expected by June

The server maker plans to release pricing for server software under its ambitious Orion strategy to take on IBM and Microsoft.

Sun Microsystems plans to release pricing for server software under its ambitious Orion strategy within the next two months, the company's top software executive said Tuesday.

"We'll have finalized pricing hopefully in the next 30 to 60 days," said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software for Sun, speaking at Merrill Lynch's Hardware Heaven conference in San Francisco. Based on an earlier conversation with Schwartz, Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich said he expects pricing to range between $100 and $200 per employee.

Pricing will be a critical factor for the success or failure of Orion, Sun's strategy to release its entire collection of server software products once per quarter and charge customers for the entire suite solely on the basis of how many employees they have. Sun argues that the pricing plan is simpler and cheaper than alternatives from IBM and Microsoft, but that the Sun Open Network Environment (Sun ONE) suite that makes up the bulk of Orion hasn't had the success of those competitors' offerings.

"We remain neutral on Sun, as this strategy will take one to two years to gain traction," Milunovich wrote in a report Tuesday.

Microsoft's pricing--increases that came with its Licensing 6 plan, in particular--irked customers and has become part of Sun's sales pitch. "Microsoft is the world's best demand-creation engine for Project Orion," driving disgruntled customers to Sun, Schwartz said.

Schwartz also said Sun is open to partnerships under which computer makers would resell Orion. Such partnerships could include even Dell Computer, one of Sun's competitors. "We've spoken to a lot of customers interested in a joint solution," Schwartz said of the possibility.

Orion will be supported on three operating systems: Sun's Solaris for Sun's UltraSparc processor, Solaris for Intel-compatible "x86" processors such as Xeon, and Linux.

"We believe (that) for Orion to be successful, Sun must more aggressively sell Solaris on x86 systems," Milunovich said, adding that the move could help bring Sun out of its current business funk. "The way out of Sun's quandary is likely through broader adoption of Solaris on both Sun and non-Sun platforms."

Neil Knox, executive vice president of Sun's volume system group and the leader of its lower-end server business, said at the conference that Sun is willing to do just that. Although sales of Intel-based lower-end Sun servers will likely cannibalize some of Sun's UltraSparc-based business, that alternative is better than losing sales to others, Knox said.

"If you don't do it, somebody else is going to do it to you," Knox said.

The Orion strategy grew out of Sun's move to release Solaris updates once each quarter and to include more functions along with the operating system.

Solaris 9 ready, with extras
Also on Tuesday, as part of Sun's regular release cycle, the company shipped the latest version of Solaris 9, called 4/03 for the date on which it was originally unveiled.

In line with the Orion strategy, Sun has bundled some new features into the standard package that once cost extra. For example, the Sun Management Center version 3.5, which ships with Solaris 9 4/03, includes "grouping" technology that previously cost extra. Grouping lets an administrator make changes to a group of servers in one fell swoop rather than dealing with each individually.

When it was introduced in 2002, Solaris 9 included volume manager software, another item that had previously cost extra. Solaris 9 4/03 updates this package, which lets a server communicate with several storage systems as if they were one, with the ability to employ a volume as large as 2,000 terabytes.

The previous limit was 1 terabyte, said Bill Moffitt, group manager for Solaris product management, in an interview. A future version of Solaris will include updated Unix File System software that also can span a 16-terabyte range, he added.

The new version of Solaris also has the ability to handle a revamped Internet standard called IPv6, which permits vastly more devices to have their own Internet addresses than does the prevailing IPv4 that's in use today. The new Solaris can transfer the IPv6 data on IPv4 networks, Moffitt said.

"You don't have to build complete IPv6 infrastructure to have IPv6 services," Moffitt said.

The feature is of the most interest to Asian telecommunications companies, which need the large address space to handle the profusion of cell phones that tap into Internet services.

"Initially, IPv6 is of primary interest in Asia. Europe is starting to catch on now," Moffitt said.