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As Sun wrestles over the strategic direction of its software business, Solaris 9's feature set signals a transition from the company's hardware bias to becoming a true enterprise software player.
Key features in the long-awaited launch include the ability to allocate processor power to groups of users, together with better security, management tools and systems utilities.
Sun is also expected to bundle its Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) Directory Server and Application Server software with Solaris 9 in a move that challenges application server partners such as BEA Systems.
In an echo of IBM's software strategy, Sun is including pieces of its infrastructure software line with the Unix server OS, hoping to reduce overall hardware purchase costs for enterprises and to pull in new sources of revenue.
"It's an escalation of the stakes," said Paul Krieg, a software analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker.
Sun is making a similar move against its storage software partner Veritas by tweaking its volume manager tools and file system technology in Solaris 9.
But despite the prospect of competing against Sun for app server sales, BEA does not appear worried.
"iPlanet has struggled with single-digit market share. We don't see this as changing the competitive landscape," said John Kiger, director of product marketing at BEA Systems.
Shirin Azad, product marketing manager at storage management software company Veritas, said the company has worked closely with Sun to ensure its volume management and file system technologies will, immediately, support Solaris 9.
Meanwhile, Sun has made a controversial decision to run Solaris 9 only on Sun's Sparc chips, though the architecture will support both Linux and Gnome environments. Sun reports it has completed most of the work needed to run Solaris 9 on Intel chips but will not release that version unless a deal is reached with users to help cover support costs.
"I think Sun is a bit torn with doing what they feel is the right thing for Sun and its customers and, on the other hand, not alienating its software partners," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at research company Illuminata.
This week Sun will also release an upgrade to its enterprise server clustering technology, Sun Cluster 3.0, which includes support for Oracle9i RAC (Real Application Clusters). This will complement Solaris 9's management features, such as Solaris Containers, that split up applications into separate compartments to protect against a software crash or virus, said Bill Moffitt, product line manager for Solaris at Sun.