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Sun mimics Microsoft in Solaris release

The software maker will announce version 9 of its Solaris operating system on Wednesday, along with a Microsoft-reminiscent strategy to integrate higher-level components.

Sun Microsystems will announce version 9 of its Solaris operating system on Wednesday along with a Microsoft-reminiscent strategy to integrate higher-level components.

Solaris 9 will come bundled with the Sun Open Network Environment (Sun ONE) directory server, used for keeping track of network information, said Anil Gadre, Solaris general manager. And by the end of 2003, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based server seller also will build into Solaris its application server for e-business tasks and Web server software for hosting Web sites, he said.

The improvements increase the utility of Solaris, Sun's version of the Unix operating system, but Sun isn't adding the new features for free. Where the Solaris 8 was available at no cost to customers using the software on servers with eight or fewer processors, Solaris 9 will be free only on single-processor computers, Gadre said.

But, he said, integrating more software into the operating system will save customers money that they won't have to spend on standalone products.

Solaris is a key part of Sun's business. It's the foundation for software from companies such as Oracle and SAP that make servers useful to customers who want to accomplish tasks such as keeping track of inventory and corporate accounts. Improving Solaris is critical for Sun to maintain the lead in reliability that Unix has over Windows, staving off other Unix sellers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, and encroaching on the turf of IBM's higher-end, but more expensive, mainframe servers.

IBM, though it lost some of the Unix server market share it had wrestled from Sun, is scrapping to improve its own version of Unix, called AIX. Also Wednesday, Big Blue will announce performance improvements, geared for technical users, to help give processors the information they need.

Pressure on BEA
As reported, Sun's move puts more pressure on Sun business partners such as BEA Systems that already sell application servers. These so-called application servers act as intermediaries between people browsing Web pages and the back-end databases, assembling that database information into useful forms. For example application server software can create online catalog pages on the fly or run shopping cart software for keeping track of customer purchases.

Directory software is used to provide fast access to information such as the myriad username-password combinations that govern computer users' access to different computing resources. Microsoft's technology for the job is called Active Directory; directory pioneer Novell has its own competing software.

Microsoft also bundles Web server software called Internet Information Server with server versions of Windows, giving the operating system the ability to host Web sites by creating and sending pages to browsers across the Internet.

Sun's strategy is to provide "integratable" software products, meaning that a customer still can use BEA's app server instead of Sun's with no complications.

The new version of Solaris also includes better performance, a faster 64-bit Java "virtual machine" for running Java programs, security and management features. And Solaris 9, through the use of "containers," will let server resources such as processors or memory be divided so specific jobs can use specific resources.

But HP, which has a profusion of different ways to divide programs on a single server, derides Sun's containers approach. "Solaris Containers (software) is resource management, not partitioning, as it does not support multiple instances of the operating system," HP said in a statement.

While Solaris might not enable the feature, Sun hardware, such as competing products from HP and IBM, enables partitioning. Indeed, Sun servers had this feature for years before the competition.

The Linux factor
Sun also is working to add Linux compatibility features, Sun said.

Sun is wrestling with the growing use of Linux, a clone of Unix that ate into Sun's low-end computer market share and that Sun now plans to sell on it own servers. The move requires Sun to bring its entire Sun ONE software suite to Linux, a major shift from the days when the company could argue that the vast bulk of its programming effort was concentrated behind Solaris and Solaris products.

But Linux threw a wrench into other companies' plans as well. IBM spent years working on a version of AIX that would run on 32-bit and 64-bit Intel processors, but discontinued plans to sell and support it, spokeswoman Catherine King said. Big Blue instead is supporting Linux and is working on making it easier to move programs between Linux and AIX.

Older versions of Solaris, which hopped from release 2.6 to 7 to 8 in the past three years, still are popular among Sun's customers. Giga Information Group analyst Brad Day estimates 30 percent to 40 percent of Sun server customers are still chugging along with version 2.6 or 7.

Sun will guarantee that programs written for 2.6, 7, or 8 will run on Solaris 9, Gadre said.

IBM, meanwhile, will announce deep improvements to AIX through software it will begin distributing Wednesday. With the changes, processors will be able to fetch data in vastly bigger chunks, said Mike Harrell AIX product manager.

In addition, computing tasks will be arranged within multiprocessor systems so a processor running a given task is physically near the memory banks and other processors it must communicate with.

The improvements speed up technical tasks such as genetic research or looking for patterns in sales data, Harrell said. IBM spokesman John Buscemi said technical tasks are as much as 35 percent faster, while ordinary business processes also see a boost of up to 20 percent on the same hardware.

IBM also is bundling a version of the Globus Project's toolkit software, which helps organize groups of servers into a pool of computing power that can collectively run supercomputing tasks. IBM is packaging the software with its own proprietary program for scheduling jobs across a collection of servers.