Orion belts it all together

Anything that could potentially reduce the headaches of managing licences is worth a look at, and that’s why a couple of Blair Dean’s clients are going to look into Orion.

Orion is a new concept recently introduced by Sun Microsystems Inc. The company plans to sell many of its key software products packaged together with the Solaris operating system in synchronized quarterly releases. This means that Sun products such as the Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Web Server Application Server, Identity Server and other products will be put on the same release cycles as Solaris and will be sold with the system in one package. Sun also plans on introducing a new “simplified” pricing scheme for the unified product, though it did not provide any details.

For Dean, the Calgary Unix User’s Group president, the idea of products coming integrated and ready to interoperate is appealing. Two of his clients who have Sun-heavy infrastructures are planning to look into it, though it’s such a new offering that no one’s ready to jump on the bandwagon, he said. The idea of reducing the management overhead is a welcome one, he said.

This could help ease the “evil life in the data centre,” said Nina Lytton, president of analyst firm Crossroads-OSA in Boston. She says the analogy Sun CEO Scott McNealy makes to purchasing a disassembled car has a lot of merit. Buying software products separately and at different times is like buying a car that comes disassembled and with parts shipped at different times. You can’t assemble the car door until you get the latest release of the handle, as well as the newest hinge.

“So there’s a lot of interdependencies, which makes it difficult for customers and software developers to build complete solutions,” Lytton said.

The announcement Sun made was a vision announcement rather than a product announcement, said Sun’s Mary Slocum, the director of marketing for Project Orion in Santa Clara, Calif. And that’s why details aren’t yet available. The all-in-one product, which will be available later this year, will be offered under a subscription pricing model rather than a traditional licensing model, she said. Customers who wish to continue to purchase products separately will be able to do so.

“We are working on a new business model that will allow customers to affordably purchase everything.”

Orion “takes advantage of an internal Sun process that’s been getting stronger over time,” said Jonathan Eunice, a principal analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. “It’s very good from the point of view of watching Sun grow up.” Generally companies start off by offering “product, product, product,” while customers want “solution, solution, solution,” Eunice said. By applying its Solaris quarterly release process to its other products, Sun is demonstrating that it is maturing, he said.

“So there’s a lot of good in it, but it’s only of diffuse value, I think, to the user.”

Choosing a portfolio package rather than a best-of-breed model makes a lot of sense for some companies, as it can help simplify an environment.

However, vendors such as IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., offer much broader portfolios than Sun’s, Eunice said.

“Certain parts of it are very good. I think the identity server components are top notch.” But the Sun portal server and app server aren’t leading the market, he added.

The offering will probably appeal to two different groups – end user organizations and commercial developers, Crossroads-OSA’s Lytton said.

“Customers are going to find it a lot more convenient.”

Developers will also find it easier and cost effective to continue to use Solaris as a development platform because there’s less testing and integration of sub-components required, she said.