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Sun sets controls for heart of financial centre

Sun executives are hoping to convince customers and partners in the financial industry that the it remains viable in the sector.

It plans to announce an increase in the number of financial applications Solaris x86 now supports.

"The financial services community used to be one of Sun's strong points, and that position has been under attack for a while," said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with industry research firm IDC.

"Sun has been trying to come up with a way to address that challenge. One way is to increasingly support Intel-compatible architectures, including Opteron," he said.

Sun will have its work cut out to convince the financial industry that it can be a low-cost server provider, said Dan Stivers, chief executive officer with 7ticks IT Consulting, a provider of IT consulting services to the financial industry.

"Sun basically gets sold for legacy systems," he said. "Any firm of substance out there that is pushing the edge and that is really focused on next-generation stuff is not pushing Sun."

While Sun is saying that it plans to release Solaris under an open-source licence by the end of the year, Stivers said that until the details of this plan are revealed, customers will be wary of Solaris on x86, for fear that it will gradually lock them into Sun's hardware platform.

Kusnetzky agrees that Solaris on x86 remains a hard sell for Sun. "Solaris has a number of very good points to it, but the challenge is that Solaris [x86] isn't Solaris," he said. "When you talk to Sun, all roads lead to Sparc and Solaris. It doesn't matter what you talk about , the conversation always ends with Sparc and Solaris."

Stivers was even more blunt on the matter. "The financial industry as a whole is not buying the fact that there is a better cost return by paying fees to Microsoft or Sun," he said.

But cost is not the only factor financial firms must consider. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange already an UltraSparc and Solaris shop, recently chose Solaris on the Sun Fire 4800 and Sun Fire 6800 servers in order to get a new electronic options trading system up and running.

"We already had an installed base of Sparc and Solaris, so the thing that would enable us to get to market fastest was to build upon what we had," said Bill Morgan, executive vice-president and chief information officer of the exchange.

His organisation is in the process of evaluating Linux and Solaris x86 for future projects, but when it came to choosing a platform for PHLX XL, the company did not even consider PC systems.

The enhancements to Sun's hardware and Solaris 10 operating system will be critical in enabling PHLX XL to scale from the 60,000 messages per second it handles today to the 120,000 messages per second it is expected to handle a year from now, Morgan said.

With a rebuilt TCP/IP stack and improved multithreading support, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange expects to lower the amount of new hardware it must buy in order to scale up its trading system.  "You can, in effect, scale within the same machine as opposed to adding servers," Morgan said. 

Whether companies like the Philadelphia Stock Exchange will accept Sun and Solaris as a viable alternative to Linux remains to be seen, but for the moment, at least, Sun has some serious catching up to do.

Preliminary estimates show that Unix, including Solaris for both the UltraSparc and x86 platforms, accounted for only 10% of worldwide server operating system shipments in 2003, Kusnetzky said. Linux made up 24% of that market, while Windows accounted for 58%.

"If you look at the data, it's pretty clear that as Linux grows, Unix is declining," Kusnetzky said.

Intransigence has caught up with Sun, said Stivers. "At one point they were a phenomenally great company that refused to change. Now they're paying the price."

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service


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