Sun pits Orion against Microsoft Windows Server

Sun Microsystems has revealed that Project Orion, its enterprise software stack, is on target for beta-testing early next month.

Sun Microsystems has revealed that Project Orion, its enterprise software stack, is on target for beta-testing early next month.

Sun intends to "take every piece of software Sun manufactures and integrate them together, pre-test them, and embed them in the operating system", explained John Loiacono, vice president of Sun's operating platforms group.

The strategy will tightly integrate functions such as SSO (single sign-on), install/uninstall procedures, and single registration. It will also ensure that common components and frameworks are uniformly applied across the suite.

Orion will be shipped between September and November and will include 12 components: Sun Cluster Server, Message Queue Enterprise Edition, Instant Messaging, Calendar Server, Messaging Server, Portal Server, Portal Remote Access Server, Identity Server, Directory Server, Web Server, and two versions of the Sun ONE Application Server.

Sun is shoring up its enterprise software stack as rivals IBM and Microsoft forge ahead with their own integrated server offerings.

"This [strategy] means having all components in the stack having strict adherence to industry standards. This is where we will differ greatly from Microsoft," Loiacono said.

Analysts question the integration strategy given the relative weaknesses of some of Orion's components. Whereas Sun's Directory Server is one of the best-selling products in its category, sales of other pieces, such as its Web Application Server, lag significantly behind competing offerings from IBM and BEA.

"Sun is gambling with Orion in that, on one hand, they are saying, 'Our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.' But their parts are not selling that great. They need a couple of best-of-breed components,” said Dana Gardner, senior analyst at The Yankee Group. “That is going to be a challenge for them."

It is here where Orion will meet Microsoft's Windows Server System head on. Microsoft is packaging its Windows Server 2003 OS with a widely deployed set of products, including Exchange Server, BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, and SQL Server, in addition to its Visual Studio toolset.

As with Orion, all the components of the Windows Server System are stitched together to work as an "interoperable infrastructure" in hopes of reducing integration complexity and administrative costs.

Summit Strategies' analyst Dwight Davis said Microsoft's approach to an integrated stack may have been influenced by Sun's Orion plans. Yet because of its common OS platform, Microsoft will have an easier time moving toward its goal than will Sun and IBM, he added.

"Microsoft has the easier job in terms of integration because they are integrating on top of only one operating system. Even though Sun has two [Solaris and Linux] now, it has the obligation through its stated strategy for Orion to opt for this swapping in and out of third-party components," Davis said.

Other analysts and users believe that Sun's bundled pricing scheme will encourage use of Orion's less popular products because of the unrestricted rights users will have to all products in the suite.

Although Sun officials have declined to reveal specific pricing schemes for Orion, Sun's Loiacono said it will be a combination of subscription and "a la carte", adding that Sun will beat the pricing of any competitor regardless of whether the competition sells its products in a stack or as individual components.

Yankee's Gardner said that the pricing of Orion will be attractive to corporate buyers because it will give them more IT spending predictability. Users cannot depend on pricing from IBM and Microsoft to be as consistent.

"With WebSphere, BEA, or Oracle, it is difficult to say what your costs are going to be. But Sun is telling users what it's going to be, and that gives them visibility into the cost-benefit analysis they never had before," Gardner said.

Ed Scannell writes for InfoWorld

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