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HP courts Sun customers with freebies

Hewlett-Packard is offering users of rival Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system $25,000 in free services and equipment as an incentive to switch to Linux-based HP systems.

Hewlett-Packard is offering users of rival Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system $25,000 in free services and equipment as an incentive to switch to Linux-based HP systems.

HP said Friday that the so-called Linux Lifeline promotion is meant to encourage users of Sun's version of Unix to more seriously consider making the move to HP's Linux database architecture. The package includes an estimated $25,000 in services, including systems assessment, applications porting and data migration.

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"We're targeting people who feel that they're stuck with Sun Solaris proprietary Unix systems and giving them a chance to move to an open system," said Marc Jourlait, vice president of enterprise marketing programs at HP. "We're addressing this because we know that it is among the top concerns and headaches in the minds of many (chief information officers) and (information technology) directors."

Sun executives said the Linux Lifeline offer represents little more than a response to the "HP Away" program Sun launched earlier this year in an effort to lure customers from using Tru64, the Unix software HP gained through its acquisition of Compaq Computer. Under the program, Sun offered trade-in deals, two weeks of free consulting and the ability to defer payment for as much as 90 days to customers willing to migrate to its technologies from HP's. Some 40 customers have already taken advantage of HP Away, according to Larry Singer, senior vice president of global market strategies at Sun.

"We don't feel that HP is a threat to us in the Linux space," said Singer. "If customers want to migrate to Linux, we have some of the lowest-cost alternatives on the market."

Specifically, the HP migration program will provide qualified Sun customers with an assessment of porting and migration needs for up to three applications; free porting of one application; use of an HP ProLiant server for up to 30 days; and a storage area network assessment. The program will initially be made available to customers in the Americas region, with the offer likely to be extended to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region sometime soon. It will be offered through the end of the year.

Industry experts appeared unsurprised that HP is using such direct tactics in targeting Sun's customers. Ted Schadler, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, noted that database vendors have been actively courting one another's clients for years.

"This is a classic marketing ploy aimed at tipping the scales for any of the fence-sitters out there," Schadler said. "When you look at Sun's earnings warning, you have to consider that migration of customers from Unix to Linux is putting pressure on them."

Earlier this week, Sun warned of significant losses in its current quarter, calling the quarter "?due in part to intense market and competitive dynamics."

However, Schadler also noted that the $25,000 offer from HP represents only a "drop in the bucket" of what it might cost a large company to move all its systems from Unix-based setups to Linux.

HP's Jourlait admitted that the Linux Lifeline offer was only a first step in what it might cost to make such a transition but said the financial benefits offered to customers by moving to open systems would prove their worth over time.

"This is less about the money we're offering than it is about providing another impetus to encourage customers to take the plunge and see what Linux can do for them," he said. "Over time, we know they will appreciate the undeniable business and financial sense it makes to move away from proprietary systems."