Sun Defines Low-Cost Computing Strategy with Alliances, New Servers

McNealy, Ellison Play Nice at SF Event

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Sun Microsystems further defined its low-cost computing strategy Monday by reaffirming its relationship with Oracle, introducing low-cost x86 servers aimed at undercutting competitors, and making it official that Red Hat will be Sun's Linux distribution.

At an event here featuring two of industry's most outspoken executives, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy and Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison unveiled that all of Oracle's software going forward will run on Sun hardware running Solaris SPARC, Solaris on x86 and Linux on x86.

In addition, Sun and Oracle also will roll out a program globally next fiscal year aimed at consolidating customers' IT infrastructure on low-cost systems using Sun and Oracle products. The program will use Sun's iForce Centers and Oracle Technology Centers to develop proof of concepts with solution providers and ISV partners to help customers consolidate.

Likely candidates as hardware for that consolidation are Sun's newest low-end servers, the Sun Fire V60x and the V65x, also introduced Monday. The v60x costs $2450 and the V65x costs $2650, lower than comparable servers from IBM, HP and Dell, McNealy said.

Sun also unveiled a deal Monday with Red Hat to distribute Red Hat's Linux on x86 for customers that want to go with a low-cost system on an open-source operating system rather than Solaris. CRN first unveiled in April that Sun would abandon its proprietary Linux plans and use Red Hat's distribution instead. In turn, Red Hat will distribute Sun's Java virtual machine on its version of Linux so customers can leverage Java-based Web services on low-cost servers, McNealy said.

Having McNealy and Ellison together on one stage seemed an unlikely photo opportunity in the past year, as the warm Sun-Oracle relationship seemed to cool after Ellison started lauding Linux and inexpensive Intel boxes as a primary platform for Oracle's database and app server software.

McNealy and Ellison played their parts like skilled actors, joking and laughing on stage, teasing each other like old fraternity brothers.

To emphasize that Sun and Oracle are still as committed as ever to their partnership, McNealy said Ellison went so far as to give him "the keys to [his] yacht," a comment that was as much a jibe about Ellison's attempt to go after the America's Cup sailing title as it was a comment on the close Oracle-Sun relationship. In a rebuttal, Ellison took the stage and joked that he didn't have much time to speak because "I have to get to my yacht and have my locks rekeyed."

McNealy even used the alliance to allude to industry rumors that Sun might be an acquisition target, asking Ellison jokingly, "Aren't you the ones who are supposed to buy us?" Ellison, playing along, replied that Oracle is "in our quiet period," and that even if he disclosed plans for a merger, "it would have to stay in this room."

In between the jokes, the two executives, both of whose companies have been hit hard by the economic slowdown, emphasized that they are serious about going after what McNealy called "a $30 billion opportunity" in a commodity server space dominated by Dell and HP.

McNealy reiterated his previous mea culpa on Sun's coming late to the x86 party. "One thing we did kind of waffle on, I admit it, was Solaris on x86," McNealy said. "Now we are doubling down with Solaris on x86."

Ellison, too, said Oracle is committed to Sun's x86 strategy. When asked if Oracle's alliance with Sun will affect its relationship with Dell to provide Oracle software on Dell servers, Ellison said only that "Sun is our biggest partner," and that the companies would sell low-cost computing solutions together.

"Scott and I are abandoning the high-cost road and [offering] low-cost computing," Ellison said, in a comment that raised questions whether Sun would eventually drop the high-end Unix strategy on which McNealy built Sun's business. But McNealy quickly assured attendees that Sun will continue to offer a variety of high-end, mid-range and low-end systems, noting that there is plenty of room in heterogeneous computer environments for everything.

"We're not abandoning the high-end, but the world will be made up of high-end, low-end and midrange components," McNealy said. "Data centers are like snowflakes. Have you ever been in two data centers that are alike? Every data center is so different they can't even mate, they're different species."

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