Enterprise Unix Roundup: Rent-to-Own, Sun Style

Enterprise Unix Roundup: Rent-to-Own, Sun Style

June 30, 2005

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Michael Hall
Amy Newman

Has it really 21 been months since we said "our take on the prospects of [Sun's Java Desktop System] are less sanguine?"

Why yes, yes it has been. Just this week Sun withdrew its Linux-based desktop product, allowing us to now claim that "less than sanguine" meant "we knew it was doomed all along."

Our objections at the time were based on the difficulties the desktop market poses for upstarts that aren't companies from Redmond whose names start with "M." "We suspect there will be much squawking and tooth-pulling before Linux desktops are widespread in many enterprises beyond the engineer and geek pools," we wrote.

As The Register noted, the move leaves quite a few Sun customers in uncertain territory, with millions of units in China alone becoming either orphans or (and no one is clear on this) having never been deployed at all.

That is not to say JDS is dead. According to published reports, Sun's John Loiacono said it's going to be built around Solaris and aimed primarily at developers. And to that we can only say "Well, why not?"

JDS never really depended on Linux for much of anything besides a strong back on which a collection of applications could ride: StarOffice, Evolution, Mozilla, and the GNOME Desktop are all as capable of running on Solaris as they are any Linux distribution. Sun also didn't get very good press for JDS from Linux enthusiasts, who consistently evaluated the offering on how well it compared to bleeding-edge desktop distributions without any apparent thought for the considerations enterprise managers might apply to a desktop pick.

By pulling back to its home operating system, Sun can spare itself some fiddling, pare down the number of variables using something built around a competitor's product introduces (JDS was SUSE-based), and get on with its new desktop strategy, which is selling rent-to-own workstations to impoverished Java developers.

We kid.

Developers get a relatively inexpensive workstation and some nice software bundled with it, and they get it for very little money per month with a markup of a few hundred dollars that, evidently, won't be called "interest."

Sun did on Monday announce the "Ultra 20," a single-CPU Opteron workstation priced starting from $895 for the most basic configuration. Sun also announced that a three year, $29.95-per-month services subscription will get you the workstation for "free." Calling it a "rent-to-own deal," though, sounds sort of tawdry when it has the potential to put Sun hardware on a lot of desktops using the lure of what amounts to easy credit for a system that looks like a decent performer.

Like JDS, the Ultra 20 is aimed at developers: It will ship with apps like Sun Studio and Java Studio Enterprise, which can cost thousands licensed. The default operating system will be Solaris 10, but the workstation will be able to run Linux and Windows as well.

The deal is pretty simple, without a lot of angles to consider.

Developers get a relatively inexpensive workstation and some nice software bundled with it, and they get it for very little money per month with a markup of a few hundred dollars that, evidently, won't be called "interest." And Sun gets a chance to reach organizations that might not be interested in upgrading their workstations just yet, or that were considering HP or Dell alternatives.

Sun also gets a chance to assert something to low-end hardware buyers that people who have used Sun's higher-end servers have known for a while: Given control of the hardware and software, Sun makes good products that "just work." That alone enabled it to earn the devotion of many admins back in its boom-time heyday and is similar to the loyalty found in the small but dedicated market that has kept Apple afloat all these years. By distributing Solaris on a machine specifically tailored to it, potential Solaris converts are spared the frustration of slapping the new operating system on random hardware with potentially spotty driver support.

No ... that's not the world on fire you're hearing. It's just another step in the process of remaking Sun into a company relevant to someone besides nostalgia-tripping boom-era admins.

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In Other News

» In addition to its attempts to conquer the desktop terrain, Sun's JavaOne developer conference could almost be described as Open Source gone wild. The systems vendor open sourced its Java System Application Server Platform Edition 9.0 and the Java System Enterprise Server Bus (ESB) under the CDDL license, as well as introduced a new spec for business integration. Executives promise more code will follow.

Sun also made nice with Big Blue. The two vendors set aside their differences over Open Source and extended their technology agreement for another 10 years. Under the terms of the agreement, IBM will license and use Java Platform Enterprise, Standard, and Micro Editions, along with Java Card, in its software products.

As a result, IBM will port its WebSphere middleware to Solaris 10 for x86 hardware, while adding support for the operating system to its DB2, Rational, and Tivoli products.

The two companies will also continue to work together in the Java Community Process.

» Novell's attempt to make SCO's claims of malicious and falsely claimed Unix copyrights go away has been quashed. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled Monday that the court could not dismiss the case on matters of law, as matters of fact in the case have not yet been determined.

Onward and upward. The case moves forward into the discovery phase.

» In other Novell news, GroupWise 7, codenamed "Sequoia," is on the march. It reached public beta status earlier this week and is expected to go gold later in the summer. New features in the collaboration server include integrated e-mail and instant messaging and enhanced Outlook support. More importantly, it is the first version of GroupWise to run on SUSE Linux. For companies still wavering on Linux, Novell is sweetening the deal by bundling the product with a free copy of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Enterprises concerned Novell might flake on its support for the once-leading collaboration software should rest easy: The vendor has pledged support for the product through 2015.

» Enterprises lukewarm on the in-the-trenches-approach Apache often requires may find Covalent Enterprise Ready Server a perfect solution. The latest version supports Apache 1.3 and 2.0, both separately and simultaneously. ServerWatch took the souped-up enterprise server out for a test drive.

Recent Updates

Tips of the Trade

Apache admins, like most Linux/Unix sysadmins, know how to monitor logs in real time with the tail command:

# tail -f /var/log/apache2/access_log

This is nice, and it works. But, of course, most admins prefer newer, shinier, and better, like apachetop. apachetop provides a real-time snapshot of everything the Apache server is doing, in a top-style format.

apachetop compiles and installs on any Linux, BSD, Solaris, or Mac OS X system. It must be run as root. This example specifies which file to watch, and refreshes the data every 10 seconds:

# apachetop -f /var/log/apache2/access_log -d 10

In a strict sense, apachetop is not real time because it's reading the logfiles. But it should be close enough for most admins. Another useful option is -l, which lowercases all filenames, so that /FILENAME and /filename are counted as the same, instead of generating separate statistics.

To sort the display, press 's to get to the sort submenu, then choose:

 r Sort by REQUESTS
 b Sort by BYTES

You may also sort by return codes, URLs, Referrers, and IPs. apachetop has a lot more useful sorting options; see the readme for more information.

Carla Schroder writes the Tips of the Trade section of Enterprise Unix Roundup. She also appears on Enterprise Networking Planet and Linux Planet, covering Linux from the desktop to the server room, and is the author of the Linux Cookbook.

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