Sun considers Solaris for chip rivals

Sun Microsystems Inc. is considering a port of its Solaris version of the Unix operating system to two new processor...

Sun Microsystems is considering porting its Solaris version of the Unix operating system to two new processor architectures designed by chip rivals IBM and Intel, a company executive has said.

Speaking during Sun's quarterly earnings conference briefing, Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz mentioned IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium processors while comparing Sun's Unix strategy to that of other Unix suppliers.

 "Unlike IBM, which obviously is narrowly deploying AIX onto one of its system families, we've also begun looking at delivering Solaris on Power, as well as Solaris on Itanium, as ways of really driving incremental volume," Schwartz said.

But Sun chief executive officer Scott McNealy was quick to point out, "that's not a product announcement", and Sun representatives declined to comment on when, if ever, such products might be released.

The idea of running Solaris on Intel's Itanium processors - which compete with Sun's own UltraSparc chips - is not a new one. In 2001, Sun completed a port of Solaris to Itanium, which was never brought to market because of low demand for Itanium systems, according to Sun. 

A year after the Itanium port, Sun also terminated support for Solaris on Intel's other chip architecture, x86, but that decision was reversed several months later after Solaris x86 users blasted the move. Now, judging from Schwartz's comments, the company is having second thoughts about the Itanium port.

A Solaris port to IBM's Power architecture would be a surprise, said Nathan Brookwood, principal with industry research firm Insight64.

"The question is, would people purchasing Power platforms from IBM be interested in Solaris as opposed to either Linux or AIX, and that doesn't seem likely," he said.

Although Sun has promised to release Solaris under an open-source licence, it will be very difficult to convince independent software and hardware suppliers such as IBM or Hewlett-Packard to provide technical support, performance tuning or marketing resources for Solaris on these new platforms when they have already committed to Linux, Brookwood said.

But Sun has made some headway recently with Solaris on x86. The company added 15 Solaris original equipment manufacturers and 54 independent software suppliers in the last quarter, and Sun has now certified 220 systems - including those made by Dell, HP, and IBM - as compatible with Solaris, Schwartz said.

"Solaris is broader than simply Sun's hardware," he said. "We are very comfortable with our operating system strategy and the flexibility it gives us in creating disruptive pricing models, like subscriptions to an operating system that include free hardware."

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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