Sun's Solaris now an option for IBM blades

Sun's Solaris 10 operating system will be a supported option for IBM's BladeCenter servers.

Sun Microsystems and IBM have come to a pragmatic accommodation, under which Sun's Solaris 10 operating system will be a supported option for IBM's BladeCenter servers.

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz announced the move last week in his blog. IBM will help optimize Solaris for IBM hardware, he said.

"We've signed up our first tier 1 systems vendor as a Solaris supporter: It's IBM, and their decision to provide comprehensive support for Solaris on BladeCenter definitely puts them ahead of the other blade vendors in offering a truly OS-neutral product," Schwartz said in his blog.

IBM confirmed the move in a statement, saying Sun is among more than 700 partners in the "BladeCenter ecosystem" and that as an operating system option, Solaris joins Windows, Linux for x86 and Power chips, and IBM's AIX version of Unix.

IBM won't sell Solaris or support for the operating system to customers, IBM said. Anyone interested will have to purchase the software and support from Sun.

Sun has been trying to spread its Solaris operating system widely--in particular the version that runs on x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. It's also making the software open-source and letting anyone use it for free. All these moves contrast with IBM's proprietary AIX.

It's still unclear whether Sun will jump aboard IBM's effort, joined by Intel, to make the BladeCenter into a de facto standard for blade servers. Today, the design accommodates blade servers that use one of three processors--Intel's Xeon, Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron and IBM's PowerPC 970--so there's nothing technological preventing other processors, such as Sun's Niagara, from being used.

Sun and IBM began cooperating on more than one front recently. For example, IBM is working on versions of its server software for Sun's Solaris x86 version. But a similar hardware alliance isn't likely, Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said. "That would surprise me greatly," he said.

Sun has said its new blade servers will debut in early 2006, but the company declined to comment on the possibility of using IBM's blades. "We are developing a new generation of blade products based on an innovative architecture that is designed to take blades to the mainstream. Beyond that, we cannot disclose further details of any unannounced products," spokeswoman Liza Curran said.

IBM declined to comment on whether Sun would use the BladeCenter specification for its server.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard dominate the blade server market. On Tuesday, HP is expected to add an Itanium processor option to its blade line, letting the systems run its HP-UX version of Unix.