Oracle updates Solaris, but is its server strategy sound?

Oracle has released a beta versdion of Solaris 11.2. But does Solaris and the Sparc server platform have a future?

Oracle has released a beta version of Solaris 11.2. But does Solaris and the Sparc server platform have a future?

Oracle said the new operating system has been built as a modern cloud platform to support efficient virtualisation, application-driven software-defined networking (SDN) technology and OpenStack.

"By engineering the operating system, the virtualisation, SDN and OpenStack together, Oracle Solaris 11.2 provides a complete cloud solution," said John Fowler, executive vice-president of systems at Oracle.

"It’s a complete platform for simple, efficient, secure, compliant and open enterprise cloud deployments that can help customers accelerate their businesses and capitalise on the potential of cloud computing while reducing cost."

The Unix operating system offers integration with Oracle Database, Java and Oracle Applications. 

The launch of the latest version of Solaris and the evolution of Sparc servers running Solaris is a result of Oracle’s research and development investment since it acquired Sun Microsystems four years ago. "Last year alone, we invested $5bn in R&D across Oracle products and services and a large part of it was dedicated to the server and operating systems space," Oracle VP hardware sales Gavin Dimmock, said.

Oracle’s strategy with the new Solaris operating system is to enable enterprise IT consolidate their infrastructure, adopt private cloud more easily and move to a hybrid IT environment. "We own software, hardware, chipsets and Solaris operating systems to help enterprises build their cloud infrastructure easily and quickly," Dimmock said.

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In a blog post on Oracle's server strategy last year and the availability of Sparce T5 systems, Forrester research director, Richard Fichera noted: "It is obvious that Oracle has delivered on its commitments regarding Sparc and is continuing its investments in Sparc CPU and system design as well as its Solaris OS technology. 

"The latest evolution of Sparc technology, the Sparc T5 and the soon-to-be-announced M5, continue the evolution and design practices set forth by Oracle’s Rick Hetherington in 2010 – incremental evolution of a common set of Sparc cores, differentiation by variation of core count, threads and cache as opposed to fundamental architecture, and a reliable multi-year performance progression of cores and system scalability."

Oracle is pushing the new OS as an integrated system, geared towards running Oracle software, the so-called “'Red Stack” on top of Oracle SPARC servers and appliances like Exadata.

According to some reports on the web, Oracle's Sparc-based servers running Solaris can be more cost effective than similarly configured x86 systems, when Oracle software licensing is added.

"Having an integrated solution is becoming more of the expectation for enterprise customers looking to build a private cloud," said Al Gillen, program vice-president for servers and system software at IDC. 

"With Oracle Solaris 11.2, Oracle offers an enterprise-ready solution that includes OpenStack based management, and makes enterprise cloud deployments easier and more affordable."

In its latest server shipment report, IDC reported that Oracle had aggressively priced Sparc servers against IBM Power servers. Oracle also has lower-end models compared to IBM with two socket Sparc servers, which meant it had a more compelling offering compared to IBM's Powre-based Unix systems.

In its third quarter sales results, Oracle reported an 8% growth in revenues for its hardware systems products which include its Sparc servers that support the Solaris operating system, its Engineered Systems and Oracle Exadata database machine. Its revenues from hardware were up to $725m.

At that time, its chief executive Larry Ellison said: "Oracle's Engineered Server Systems, including Exadata and Sparc SuperClusters, achieved over a 30% constant currency growth rate in the quarter, while throughout the industry traditional high-end server product lines are in steep decline”.

"Our Engineered Systems business is growing because customers want us to integrate the hardware and software and make it work together, so they don't have to," Ellison added.

But it remains to be seen whether Solaris and Oracle software running on top of Sparc hardware is a viable alternative to Linux-based x86 servers in the datacentre.

Analyst Garter was wary of Oracle's long-term committment to the Sparc platform, and Solaris OS. In a research paper, Best Practices for Deploying Oracle Solaris and SPARC, Gartner analysts George Weiss, Andrew Butler and Errol Rasit warned that Unix systems like Sparce/Solaris were not a viable long-term alternative to x86 servers.

They did not believe Oracle had the appetite to continue investing in the Sparc server technology platform if server hardware revenues continued to slide. In regards to how existing Sparc/Solaris users should carry forward their investment in the Oracle hardware architecture, the analysts said: "Gartner would respond that tactical upgrades are acceptable, but clients should avoid wide expansion into other applications and workloads."

Oracle Solaris 11.2 Beta is now available for download via Oracle Technology Network (OTN).

Additional reporting by Archana Venkatraman.

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