UPDATE: Sun tries to change software game with Orion

Sun Microsystems Inc. has laid out details of a new program called project Orion that will see the company ship all of its key software products packaged with the Solaris operating system in synchronized quarterly releases.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of software at Sun, unveiled Orion Tuesday during the second day of Sun’s analyst conference in San Francisco, calling it “the redefinition of an operating system.” While Schwartz provided limited details on the new project, he did say that Sun plans to ship all of its infrastructure products such as the Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Web Server, Application Server and its server management products along with Solaris, Sun’s flavour of Unix.

By including all of its software packaged as one product, Sun is hoping to make life easier on customers trying to manage myriad applications with differing licensing and pricing schemes.

“(Companies) have had to hand-assemble the parts that we can deliver on the system itself,” Schwartz said, during his presentation. “We will be delivering all of the products on a quarterly release train that will become a single product called Solaris.”

Sun is banking on the notion that companies are in search of a more simplified way to manage their software purchases. Up to this point, most companies buy a variety of products such as an application server or Web server from different companies, which means they need to keep track of a wide range of pricing models. Sun said it can make this process easier by giving customers the option of buying one, entire software suite from Sun with a common licensing model.

The company has positioned this attack against Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp., both of which offer a similar line of infrastructure software for running business applications.

Sun has yet to provide details on how Orion might be priced but said it could come as a yearly subscription fee or a model based on the number of users within a company, for example. Companies will have the option of purchasing part of the Orion software suite and replacing the Sun ONE application server with a competing product from a company such BEA Systems Inc., Schwartz said. Sun plans to make its pricing public in the coming months.

One reason for this new approach stems from the way customers have reacted to the quarterly release cycle for Solaris, Schwartz said. Sun releases Solaris updates every quarter with new patches, bug fixes and options. It now plans to release all of its software products on this same schedule, again to try and make life simpler on customers, Schwartz said.

“It’s trying to make sure that the software stack, all of it, works together (and) can be installed in the same way, administered in the same way and managed in the same way,” said Anil Gadre, vice-president of software marketing at Sun, during a session that followed Schwartz’s presentation.

Sun plans to release Orion for the first time near the end of the first quarter with support for Solaris and Solaris x86, a version of the operating system that runs on Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s processors. The second release should follow a quarter after that and include Linux support for almost all the software pieces, Sun representatives said during the session with Gadre. Sun may eventually include support for Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating systems and versions of Unix from IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Sun expects many customers to pull out its own products and replace them with those of competitors, Gadre said.

“We will have customers that will want to take out one of our applications,” he said. “They will have choice as to what to load and install on a system.”

Still, Sun sees Orion as a vehicle to show off its software suite to customers already buying a Solaris server, hoping they might evaluate an application because it’s part of the OS installation process. This could be a benefit to the company in gaining mind-share, especially in markets such as application servers, where Sun has struggled.