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Sun bites back at Novell

Solaris manager Larry Wake offers robust rebuttal of Novell's claims

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We had featured Novell's Adrian Keward who recently left Sun Microsystems and provided his insights into his erstwhile employer's software strategy and products.

Keward wasn't kind to Solaris. Once Sun UK's Solaris pre-sales manager, the essence of his argument was that Sun is a company whose primary focus is selling proprietary hardware in a rapidly commoditising world. As a result, for Sun the software's job is to support hardware sales, not standalone -- and as a result, the software division and its products suffered.

We rapidly got a call from Sun's Larry Wake, the Solaris group manager, anxious to provide a comprehensive rebuttal of Keward's points.

Q: What's your take on Keward's proposition? Is Sun's software division just there to prop up the hardware? A: It's true that our roots were in hardware technology, and our differentiator was open systems. Now people understand that the network is the computer and that open systems is the way to go. IBM said at the time that you have to be careful about getting locked into open systems [laughs].

The industry is now asking 'what has Sun done for us?' It's true that we were late to open source -- though not the open systems -- party.

We see this [open source] as a natural progression. [CEO and President Jonathan] Schwartz helped get this into our DNA. The last seven years were the watershed. Even before then, we were becoming more of a software company, Java was a major driver, along with the Sun-Netscape alliance.

We started compartmentalising the company so that software was not just in slavery to the hardware group. It needed to be successful not just in Sun but outside the company, in the wider market.

Yes we're a hardware company, but are also the third largest server vendor. We've made a major effort to make sure that performance increases. And we're now delivering more Solaris licences on non-Sun systems than on Sun systems. HP has a strategy of delivering Solaris-based servers -- that put puts us in front of customers who may not have considered Sun systems before.

The first announcement of Solaris on x86 was in 1991, and the software arrived in '93. Solaris x86 went away when the dotcom crash happened but we regained our sanity and realised that if we limited Solaris to Sun's own boxes, we were throwing away an enormous opportunity in the market. It was all driven by Schwartz's mantra that volume drives value.

We're now about open source and ensuring that Solaris runs well on non-Sun boxes. It's been a big change in the company in the last few years.

Q: Keward made a point about poor support for Solaris. How do you respond to that? A: Our support includes the x86 systems that we sell as well as others. We're now number five in the x86 server market, which gets support recognising that Solaris runs on x86 as well as RISC.

[European Solaris engineering director Chris] Armes has a large support staff and customers have said they were knocked out about how large the support staff numbers are. We have a worldwide support organisation, 35,000 strong. Solaris is the number one Unix in the industry so customers would not tolerate having anything less. We have one of the best Unix support organisations in the world. It's simply not possible that we have 64 percent of the Unix market and not have good support.

Q: What about the performance issues Keward raised? A: We have hundreds of results posted on www.sun.com -- there's a huge range, all documented. But benchmarks never tell the whole story.

Q: So what are people doing with open source Solaris? A: The three main tenets are that we're free, open and everywhere. The licence doesn't restrict you to anything. Open Solaris is a project not an OS. There are plenty of others not just Sun's - people are using it in all sorts of interesting ways. For example, DTrace is going into one of the BSDs, and into MacOSX, which will have ZFS as well. Even our customers who don't care that Solaris is open source.

ZFS went into the June '06 update of Open Solaris, after the open source community had been trying it since '05. We got lots of feedback from very smart, extrovert people and they told us what went wrong. They gave us months of very high quality, directed feedback as to what people could and couldn't do with ZFS, tell us what the GUI was doing and the same with the algorithms. They're making Solaris better.

There are science projects, who put it into Linux in user mode. People come to us and ask for a particular RFE [request for enhancement] -- they hand us a mod and ask us to put it into the OS. They can have more impact on what the OS was doing than ever before.

Q: What about longevity? A: Solaris 10 is the current release - Solaris 8 has stopped shipping now -- it came out in 2000. We'll support it for 12 years while Red Hat says it supports RHEL for 30 months only. We also guarantee compatibility between releases, which is relevant to ISV and enterprises who write their own code. This means that if it runs on Solaris 8 then it runs on Solaris 9 and so on.


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