Sun Microsystems' agreement to start OEMing Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 operating system as an option for its x86 servers opens the doors to new opportunities for Sun's channel, but runs the risk of further commoditizing Sun's hardware.
The move, which the two vendors unveiled yesterday, comes less than a month after IBM said it will expand its support for Sun's Solaris operating on it x86 server line.
The two events solidify the fact that x86 server hardware, including the servers from Sun, have become commodity products, said Mike Thompson, president of Groupware Technology and Computing, a Campbell, Calif.-based Sun solution provider.
"In the long run, most people who buy Sun hardware will run Solaris," Thompson said. "But we can now go into a Sun house and offer Microsoft. But on the flip side, IBM partners will be in Sun shops selling Solaris."
It is nice to see Sun formalize something that was already happening, said Rob Wolfe, president and CEO of AvcomEast, a Vienna, Va.-based Sun solution provider.
"People are already loading Windows on Sun x86 servers because they are great servers," Wolfe said. "It's nice to see the commodity operating system on commodity Sun servers."
On the other hand, Wolfe said, he really does not want customers to see another operating system as an alternative to Solaris, which he called the best operating system in terms of value, performance, and security.
"As a Sun partner, we will need to work harder to talk to customers about the strength of the Solaris platform," he said.
Sun solution providers do see new opportunities to compete against other industry-standard server vendors using Windows and Sun hardware.
Donna Regan, director of marketing at Regan Technologies, a Wallingford, Conn.-based Sun solution provider, said she expects the combination to let her company be able to displace Hewlett-Packard or Dell servers with some customers.
However, this does not mean she expects to become the sole provider of servers to customers with mixed environments.
"Customers like to keep multiple vendors around," Regan said. "Obviously, we'd like to be the only one in there. But customers like a little competition. Most of the time, customers are not looking for a single throat to choke. What I think they are looking for is someone to help them with cross-platform applications."
Wolfe said he expects new opportunities to sell Sun servers to customers his company had not been able to reach before. "Customers have racks and racks of servers running Windows," he said. "This gives us credibility as a multi-platform provider."
Sun customers already know that Sun is serious about servers, Wolfe said. "The fact that they have the option to get servers from Sun with any operating system is pretty cool," he said.
Kip Lindberg, vice president of enterprise sales at Ncell Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based Sun solution provider, said he sees the opportunity to go to customers who are outside the areas where they can get the best service from HP or other server vendors.
"I can go in and say, 'Here, you aren't getting the support you need,'" Lindberg said. "So there's a possibility we could have some Sun/Microsoft sales."
However, Lindberg said, he is not expecting a huge new increase in sales from Sun servers with Windows. "My customers aren't going to all of a sudden say, gee, I'll buy my Windows from Sun," he said. "They already have a half-a-dozen other vendors in there."
The Sun/Microsoft agreement also signals the beginning of a new move to virtualize the data center, solution providers said.
Regan Technologies already working a lot with virtualization on the x86 server platform, Donna Regan said. "Having Microsoft will be a big plus for us for virtualization."
Lindberg said the combination does look interesting as one watches how the server blade and virtualization markets grow. "Once you get into blades, and truly virtualize it all, then you could get into a computing-agnostic platform," he said. "If companies like this start to play together in the sandbox, maybe we'll finally get to the utility computing concept we've been talking about for years."