The future of Unix Part 2: The Sun view

Ian Yates continues his interview series on the future of Unix, in conversation with Sun's Laurie Wong.

In these interviews, TechTarget ANZ's Ian Yates speak with analyst Kevin McIsaac from IBRS, Sun Microsystems' Laurie Wong and IBM's Phil MacLochlainn. The hypothetical is the death of Unix at the hands of Linux.


Ian Yates (IY): Today we've got Laurie Wong from Sun Micro Systems with a slightly different perspective on the future of Linux. Laurie, I've been hearing a lot of rumors that in the datacentre Linux is making inroads and we already know there is a bit of Windows in there. Now the datacentre used to be owned by mainframes but then you guys with your up-front-cheaper and more reliable Unix took over. Is it now your turn to get ousted in favour of these new upstarts from Linux and Windows?

Laurie Wong (LW)): I think there is a lot of hype in the market place around different technologies in the datacentre. If we look at the statistics in which the data is collected by IDC in Q1-07 for Australia, Sun is number one in Australia for the combined mid-range and high-end enterprise server. So we had about forty four percent of the market share based on revenue with our competitors coming second and third. I think in the datacentre those statistics point to the fact that we still retain market share and we are still are number one in the datacentre.

IY: So you might have the biggest IT pie but you own a fair slice of it?

LW: Well forty four percent market share is pretty good and I think the Unix market share of the total Australian IT market is about forty percent. So we own half of half if we think about it.

IY: So rumours of Unix's death are being greatly exaggerated by the wanna-be's?

LW: I think everyone wants to see it go away because they believe that they've got something better. I think the customers know pretty well that they may have something better but it's not tried, proven and tested and reliable and continues to innovate as quickly with different features and functionality as the other OS's.

IY: People say Linux is free but the price of the operating system is not really the main cost of expenditure, it's all the hardware and support that goes with it. I know that you've got Solaris available on the x86 platform, the current crop of Pentiums and so on from Intel, and I read recently that you've done a deal with IBM and now IBM's blade servers will be able to run Solaris on a blade.

LW: Yes that's absolutely true. IBM OEM's the Solaris operating systems for their blade servers.

IY: So that means even more Unix sneaking back into the datacentre. So anybody who just objected about hardware price, they don't have an objection.

LW: Exactly. We have a range of Intel machines and we have a range of AMD machines and we have a range of IBM machines and HP also has an agreement with us. So Solaris is available now on the three major hardware platforms. Customers have a choice now in terms of the operating system and what platform they wish to run it on. If you look at all the telco's and the banks and organisations that need to process a huge amount of data very quickly whether it be call centres or banking transactions, a lot of them base their datacentre on Unix and often it's our brand of Unix.

IY: If you've got forty four percent of that market, who are the other big players now? Is it still IBM and HP owning the rest?

LW: Yes it is IBM and HP of course. They are certainly very, very large organisations. IBM I think had got about thirty nine percent market share and HP slightly below that. It will always be one, two, three. Sometimes it changes but certainly we have held the lead now for a couple of quarters.

IY: You've made a lot of changes with Solaris, you have put the code in the open source camp?

LW: And I think that's really attracted a large amount of Unix developers as well Linux developers. They are now looking at it as a viable option to base their future development. There is a whole lot of code sharing and idea sharing going on. For example the Solaris file system is being looked at by the Linux community as well as Apple Mac OS X which is BSD-based. So once you go into open source you actually tap into a different vein and a larger reservoir of talent for the development of your OS and that's what we are experiencing. We are seeing a lot more new innovation and a lot more market growth in that area. Once we made Solaris free, open sourced it, we recorded something like seven and a half million downloads. So it's been going well for us.

IY: It was a good idea then. The people who were worried it was going to ruin the company were wrong. It was the other way; it has actually been a boost.

LW: It has been a big boost and I think most companies will have to grapple this issue whether to stay proprietary or go open source. You have to make that decision and you have to put a strategy in place to execute and take you there. That's the difficulty. I think we bit the bullet and we did the right thing. I think history is proving to us that the way the world is going is towards open source.

This interview is also featured on Ian's weekly podcast A Series of Tubes.

NEXT: The view from IBM

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