Trying to move more into the Linux mainstream (less of an oxymoronic phrase every day), Sun Microsystems plans to support a number of Linux distributions rather than continue selling its own Sun Linux. No distributors have been named, but the company says they will number as many as four. Sun in November introduced Sun Linux, based on the Linux 2.4.9 kernel, as an alternative to running Solaris on its x86-based LX50 server.
Sun's move is an important endorsement for Linux and an indication that Sun is listening to its customers, says Katherine Egbert, a managing director and research analyst at financial analyst firm C.E. Unterberg, Towbin. "The question is, how far will Sun go with its Linux strategy? This depends upon how Linux develops."
Sun's move to embrace other Linux distributions is also likely to save the company on development costs. "It's a tough market right now and you have to save money where you can," says Charles King, research director for the Sageza Group.
"There was some justifiable scratching of heads" when Sun said it would sell it's own Linux, King says. A Sun Linux would given Sun control of that operating system, an approach that King calls "antithetical" to an open-source strategy.
Despite the attention Sun is paying to Linux and x86 hardware, King doesn't think this is watering down the company's primary focus: Sparc-based processors and the Solaris operating system. Rather, "it's a measure of rationalism and realistic thinking," he says. "If their customers are going to buy Linux or x86, they may as well buy them from Sun."
The alternative is to have Hewlett-Packard, IBM, or some other vendor sell Intel-based servers to Sun customers looking to run Linux. "The next time HP or IBM come around, they'll try to sell the customer something else," King says. "Sun doesn't want them to get their toe in the door."
Although IBM and HP have survived the economic downturn with fewer bruises than Sun, all of their strategies are converging. Neither HP nor IBM considers itself simply server vendors. "They're recognizing that a holistic attitude is necessary for highly complex computing environments," King says.
"Sun has finally recognized that there's a place for low-end boxes and that they're every bit as viable as the high-end market Sun's been focused on," he says. "You may have based your company and made a lot of money selling your customers Lincoln Town Cars, but now they want economy cars, and you'd better to listen."