Sun ponders Solaris for Power, Itanium

Firm thinks move will mean more software partners, bigger foundation for future sales of upgrades, services and software.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems, which has already resurrected its Solaris operating system for one processor architecture, is considering a further expansion to Intel's Itanium and IBM's Power chip families.

Sun floated the Solaris expansion idea during a conference call after reporting on Tuesday a return to revenue growth after 12 quarters of declines. The move happens at the same time Sun is embarked on an effort to bring its Java Enterprise System server software to rival operating systems.

"We've begun looking at Solaris on Power as well as Solaris on Itanium as a way of delivering incremental volume," said Jonathan Schwartz, who was appointed chief operating officer in April. Sun believes that distributing as high a volume of its technology as possible will mean the company will be able to recruit software partners more easily and have a bigger foundation for future sales of upgrades, services and software.

The Solaris project marks yet another aggressive expansion plan for a company that's cutting 3,300 jobs and trying to reduce expenses by $500 million in the next year. But Schwartz thinks it can be done.

"We're not worrying about spreading too thin," he said in an interview. The Solaris and Java Enterprise System expansions are projects he initiated, Schwartz said.

For years, Sun focused on just one processor architecture, UltraSparc, and one operating system, Solaris. Sun has been working to resurrect a version of Solaris for x86 chips such as Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron and Intel's Xeon.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based server and software company also worked on Solaris for Itanium, but that project was canceled before it yielded a product, because of squabbling between Sun and Intel.

Intel and IBM could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

HP--which initiated Itanium, helped Intel develop it and is its biggest advocate--saw evidence of Sun's troubles in the move.

The Solaris expansion "demonstrates they know it's a two-horse race for high-end computing between Itanium and Power," said Mark Hudson, vice president of marketing for HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers group. "If they try to focus on both hardware--Sparc--and software they will fail, as they can't afford it," Hudson predicted.

Schwartz said Sun is "very" serious about the effort and argued that it's in the best interests of rivals who wish to spread their chip architectures to support Sun's push.

"It's up to the hardware vendors to worry about volumes, to join us in developing it and the ISV (independent software vendor) population," Schwartz said. "We have a very productive dialog currently ongoing with Intel. IBM has a bit tougher, but we'll get there."

Solaris is working on Itanium servers in the lab, Schwartz said.

Sun also is spreading its Java Enterprise System software to Windows, IBM's AIX version of Unix, and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX version of Unix. Windows and HP-UX versions are due by the end of the year, Sun has said.

It's easier to embrace rival technology these days, McNealy said, because there's less of it.

"To be heterogeneous now isn't such a complicated thing anymore," McNealy said in an interview. "There's less stuff out there to be heterogeneous with. DEC is gone, HP-UX is going away, PA-RISC is gone," he said, referring to Digital Equipment Corp., HP's version of Unix and HP's in-house processor design.

But Sun considers the non-Solaris versions of Java Enterprise System a stepping-stone. "We've got to provide (customers) bridges and migrations. Ultimately, it makes more sense to be on a Sun Solaris sever than other environments running JES," McNealy said.