Sun Microsystems has announced that it will make available its entire software stack--its middleware, N1 management platform and Java development tools--at no cost and as open source software
The free stack, dubbed Solaris Enterprise System, offers cross-platform support and will be positioned as an alternative to stacks and operating systems from Microsoft and rivals. Among them: Windows, AIX, HP-UX and the open-source Linux operating system.
Most of the Solaris Enterprise System software is available immediately for free download, but the company will hold back about 20 percent of the total code until the first quarter, executives said.
Sun President Jonathan Schwartz said the company is adopting the same business model used by leading open-source middleware companies including Red Hat, JBoss and mySQL. Under that model, customers must still pay for a service and support contract to use the free software in-house.
While the savings will be negligible for corporate sites, the move will give developers free access to a fully integrated software system, and it will enable partners and SMB customers with fewer than 100 desktops to freely use Sun's high-end Unix software in-house.
"One of the most important drivers is price. It's not to say features and quality don't matter, but volume wins in the marketplace," Schwartz said during a conference call Wednesday, noting that Sun is targeting developers and CIOs primarily. "It generates the broadest ecosystem, market opportunities and is useful in lowering cost and opening markets."
Sun pledges to make available newer and more lucrative products in the stack as part of the free and open-source Solaris Enterprise System, including its directory and identity management software, and integration technology from its SeeBeyond acquisition. Storage management software from the StorageTek acquisition also will be a part of Solaris Enterprise System, but executives could not say when that will happen.
Sun hopes to grow the volume of its overall software business, especially in developing economies and markets. The company claims that it has enjoyed roughly $100 million in revenue from its Java Enterprise System middleware. It intends to grow sales by offering more advanced system and health monitoring services directly to customers and through Sun Grid services, including computing power by the hour.
Sun declined to comment on whether or not it will maintain existing pricing on its support contracts or raise prices, or how that might impact iForce partners.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company made its Solaris operating system available at no cost and as open-source with OpenSolaris earlier this year. Since February, customers have downloaded 3.5 million Solaris licenses, the majority of which for x86 and x64 servers, Schwartz said.
Sun has made a core component of JES--its application server software--available at no cost for several years; it made the technology available as open-source software as part of a project code-named Glassfish in recent months.
Schwartz denied one observer’s contention that offering the application server free has done little to move the needle in Sun's favor. And he said the time is right to pull the switch on an all-free software platform, especially in light of the increasing success of the Linux operating system and the explosion of free Internet services such as Google and Yahoo!
"Today's market is in transition ... as is Sun's system business and software business," Schwartz added. "We've seen the impact of open source, and it has led to the entire transformation in Sun's business."
Sun executives said little about how the deal would impact the company’s iForce partners but indicated that they are working with systems integrators even as they plan to ramp up the types of managed services that will be offered directly to customers.
But the availability of the middleware stack, N1 management system and Java-based development tools at no cost and as open-source software likely will be well-received by developers and partners, especially those that service the SMB sector, Sun executives said.
Most of Sun's hardware-only VARs have vanished, and its current base of roughly 600 solution providers are beefing up services. Sun has been one of the few vendors to keep its professional services business small, preferring to focus those efforts only on its direct Sun accounts and not really competing against its channel, observers said.