Is Sun Rowing Upstream Without a Paddle?

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Oct 1, 2008


Paul Rubens
When economic times get tough, organizations look at ways to cut costs.

OS Roundup: Maybe. But it's unlikely it will be out of business any time soon.

That's bad news for Sun, because its wares don't come cheap: A number of CTOs I've been talking to recently have already jettisoned Sun Solaris systems because of their high costs. Here's what one had to say: "We had two Sun boxes running Solaris with four processors in each, and it was costing us about $70,000 per year in maintenance. We junked them and bought two Dell dual-processor servers which we run Linux on. We got a 30 percent performance increase, and maintenance is now under $1,700 per year."

Here's another comment from someone who ditched Sun Solaris for Linux: "We did some benchmarking, and Linux/Intel came out 90 percent cheaper and three times faster when you take software licensing and hardware costs into consideration."

Enterprise Unix Roundup

People may pay more for what they perceive to be a premium product, but they have to believe it has a future. So it was more bad news for Sun when the New York Times decided to reprint an article from InfoWorld last week with the headline "Is Sun Solaris on its deathbed?" Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, was quoted in the New York Times saying:

Customers are pretty aware that Unix is a more expensive legacy architecture. They continue to support it because they don't want to change their legacy apps over to a new platform because of the costs. But they know now they eventually need to do it because Unix just doesn't have the combined might of all the different organizations and individuals that are developing [for] Linux.

He also appeared to stick the boot into Sun in particular. "The future is Linux and Microsoft Windows. It is not Unix or Solaris, " he said, adding that Solaris has almost no new deployments and is a legacy operating system offered by a company in financial difficulties.

Zemlin is reported to be unhappy with the way his words had been used in the article, saying that the piece was "sensational and regrettable." While possibly true, it does little to mitigate the harm that pieces like this can do to the general feeling that surrounds a company. It batters the morale of staff, it worries customers, and it makes investors in the company nervous.

All investors should be nervous at the moment: It's not often the stock market drops almost 7 percent in a day, as it did at the beginning of this week. But Sun's shareholders must be wondering when the bad news is going to end — the Sun stock price has been in meltdown for several months.

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Back in June, a number of commentators questioned whether Sun would remain independent, given its falling share price and market capitalization of just $7 billion. In the past three months, Sun's shares have fallen a further 40 percent — far more than the NASDAQ, which has fallen about 13 percent in the same period. Many must be hoping that someone — Fujitsu perhaps? — will come along and make a generous offer for the company.

An economic slowdown is not the best environment in which to get sales moving, and that's yet more bad news for Sun because it has certainly been less than impressive in the past few months. Of the big four server vendors — IBM, HP, Dell and Sun — Sun was the only one that saw server revenues decline in the past quarter ѿ by a shocking 7.2 percent, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. By contrast, IBM's server sales jumped almost 14 percent in the same period.

None of this points conclusively to the death of Solaris, or even that the operating system is on its "deathbed," as the article that appeared in the New York Times put it. The operating system has many fans, and a sizable community has formed around the OpenSolaris project. But there's a lot of bad news around the company at the moment, and many people must be thinking that whatever the future for Sun is, it's lurking just around the corner. The sun seems to be setting on Solaris, in its current form at least.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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