After more than a year of industry speculation and denials, Sun Microsystems will bundle the Sun ONE Application Server and Sun ONE Directory Server with the Solaris 9 Operating Environment.
Sun has also improved scalability in Solaris 9 through better threading, support for Web services, and more self-tuning, which lowers administrative cost. But is the inclusion of a free application server and directory server a compelling reason to buy Solaris 9?
At first glance, customers appear to benefit from getting two major pieces of software for free that previously were not. Further, if the application and directory server are well integrated with the Operating System (OS), performance should improve because of lower overhead.
However, although the application server is free, it can only run on one server, which limits its scalability and failover capability. Enterprise users will have to upgrade to a for-fee server to get clustering. Hewlett-Packard (HP) also bundles a basic version of its application server with the HP-UX OS, but users we spoke with needed to upgrade to a for-fee server.
Finally, although Sun says it supports Web services with Solaris 9, it doesn't support Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), which is important because it allows you to securely store Web services. Even though the bundled application server has limitations, it is appropriate for the 20% of shops that don't require load balancing.
Initial user feedback has been mixed. One Application Service Provider (ASP) that uses BEA Systems products on HP-UX said that it might consider Solaris 9 for a cheap, shrink-wrapped system, but otherwise it was sticking with what it has and knows.
So what does Solaris 9 mean to the competition and its customers?
BEA - BEA and IBM lead the application server market. Our survey of application servers shows that cost and existing infrastructure are the primary determinants of future application server purchases. Although BEA is pricy, it is well entrenched and seen as a premium offering. Further, BEA is not tied to any application server or database, which is important to heterogeneous shops. Although Sun has stated that Solaris will continue to support all application servers, users may view their bundling as hurting heterogeneous support.
IBM - Sun, HP, and Microsoft now offer a basic version of their own application servers with their OSs. Although IBM says customers don't want an OS/application server bundle, we expect competitive pressure to force IBM to offer a basic version of Websphere with AIX.
Like Sun, HP, and Microsoft, the basic version of the application server will be used as a hook to get users to buy versions of the application server and sister products like portals, integration, and Business Process Management (BPM).
Oracle/Sybase - Oracle and, to some extent, Sybase have application server sales that are influenced by their databases. We would expect both vendors to offer stripped-down versions of the application server for free in response to Sun's and HP's offerings.
What should users do? For companies that primarily have Solaris, the bundling of application and directory servers into Solaris 9 should be investigated. Users that only require a single server or are looking for a low-cost mobile or disconnected application server should also consider it. For everyone else, we see no reason to change course.