Sun gets serious about Linux

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Thursday extended an significant olive branch to the Linux community by embracing a wide range of Linux initiatives surrounding Sun’s Solaris operating environment.

In a morning conference call that Ed Zander, president and COO of Sun, cautioned would consist of “mostly direction” for Sun’s Linux strategy, Zander listed a number of efforts to “run Linux applications in a Solaris environment,” he said.

Most surprising was Zander’s announcement that Sun would soon begin shipping an expanded line of low-end Linux servers based on x86, or industry-standard, chip architecture, not Sun’s proprietary UltraSparc processor. The x86 chip architecture is the foundation of Intel Corp.’s Pentium-class chips and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Athlon chips.

Zander said Sun “will ship a new class of low-end, x86-based server aimed at the emerging edge market place,” where the need for simple, inexpensive servers running Linux is growing beyond mere Linux appliances.

The decision to offer a x86-based servers represents a huge departure from Sun’s dedication to its own chip architecture, but Zander said it was not an admission by Sun that lower price/performance points could be found outside the Solaris/UltraSparc environment. Nor was the move in response to recent news that Sun’s upcoming Solaris 9 operating systems would not support chips built by Intel, Zander said.

When asked if Sun’s decision to sell x86-based servers running Linux was a result of pressure from industry standard Linux server vendors such as Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co., Zander said that competition wasn’t the issue. Sun’s Linux server arm Cobalt has sold Linux server appliances for some time now, and saving money through the adoption of x86 chip architecture wasn’t a necessity, as Sun was making just as much, or more, profit from its low-end Sparc-based Linux servers by not having to pay licensing fees to Microsoft Corp. and Intel, Zander said.

Going forward, Sun’s bottom line will benefit even more from the x86 servers, Zander said.

“As far making money goes, the low-end is very attractive to us today, even with our Sparc/Solaris boxes and our Cobalt boxes, and these are commodity chips, everyone can bend the sheet metal and knows what to do here to put Linux on. The issue with the low-end PC model is the Microsoft taxes and when you get in to the higher Intel side, the Intel taxes, and we can avoid both of those with our low-end [x86] boxes,” Zander said.

Zander also announced that Sun “will ship a full implementation of the Linux operating system,” and said Sun is committing “the entire SunOne implementation to Linux.”

SunOne is the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s open Internet infrastructure software suite.

“Pieces of the SunOne architecture do run on Linux today but we are committing the full entire SunOne implementation,” Zander said.

Also, the Solaris 8 operating system is now shipping with enhanced Linux capabilities, and Sun will make the Gnome Linux desktop interface “the preferred desktop for Solaris when Gnome 2.0 begins shipping this year,” Zander said.

Native support for Linux on Sun’s UltraSparc chips, a rich new set of Linux support services, storage initiatives on Linux, and increased code contributions from Sun to the Linux development community will also all begin to happen, Zander said.

As for the timing of Sun’s bold new Linux initiatives, “The actual dates, the actual pricing, the actual announcement dates, will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead,” Zander said.

Sun Microsystems of Canada in Markham, Ont., is at