Rivals IBM, Sun to join on projects in bid to take on HP
In 'tectonic shift,' Solaris will run on Big Blue servers
Two longtime rivals in computing, International Business Machines Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., plan to cooperate on server technologies, a move that could put pressure on their joint competitor Hewlett-Packard Co.
Sun's chief executive Jonathan Schwartz said the relationship "represents a tectonic shift in the market landscape."
The collaboration, disclosed yesterday, will enable Sun's Solaris operating system to run on IBM servers. Among other things, that means customers that run Sun servers will be able to switch to Big Blue's hardware without having to rewrite any programs.
At first this will be possible on IBM's "x" series of servers, which also run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows or the open-source Linux system. But eventually IBM hopes to bring Solaris to the mainframe, the big multitasking machines that have been one of the company's core profit centers for decades. (One of the biggest bashers of the mainframe as a supposed dinosaur used to be Sun's former CEO, Scott McNealy.)
IBM has been expanding the kinds of programs that can run on mainframes to encourage customers to consolidate multiple servers on these bigger machines to save costs.
These steps threaten to take Sun servers out of action in favor of IBM machines. But Sun can gain from this partnership by collecting Solaris subscriptions from customers who run that operating system on IBM hardware. Otherwise, Sun risked losing customers entirely to IBM.
The arrangement is in keeping with Sun's strategy to rebound from a devastating slump in the first part of the decade by broadening its role as a software vendor. This week, Sun and Google Inc. expanded their partnership as Google began distributing Sun's StarOffice suite.
Left out of the mix is Hewlett-Packard, which is locked in a battle with IBM for leadership in the server market. IBM and HP each had 29 percent share in the most recent assessment by market tracker IDC, while Sun and Dell Inc. were tied for third with 11 percent each.
HP actually already supports a downloadable version of Solaris on its servers, though Pund-IT Research analyst Charles King said the more formal IBM-Sun relationship would help insure optimal performance and service.
HP's vice president of server marketing, Paul Miller, took issue with that idea, saying customers would not notice any difference from IBM and Sun's deal.
"I don't see what a collaboration brings them," Miller said. "I don't see an additive technology here."