Sun Microsystems embraces Linux, x86

The Sun Microsystems Inc. has decided that the best way to compete against the growing use of commodity hardware and open-source software is to expand its own offerings in those very lines.

'In the past year and a half there have been some vast changes in Sun's view,' said Harry Foxwell, a senior systems engineer for Sun who spoke at a recent meeting in McLean, Va., sponsored by the Baltimore-Washington Beowulf User Group.

'We're not getting rid of our core technologies, but we are recognizing customers are interested in what they can do with low-cost commodity hardware and what they can do with the Linux environment,' Foxwell said.

This is a big move for Sun, which specializes in industrial-grade servers and workstations. Although Sun has publicly embraced Linux since 2002, it is now seeing use for it in the enterprise computing arenas'its core market.

Foxwell said Sun formerly viewed commodity computing as useful at the edges of networks, for duties such as file sharing and printer services. In 2002, it introduced basic 32-bit, one- and two-processor servers to meet these needs.

Sun now is conceding that a combination of Linux and x86-based computers can be used for 'more robust enterprise-class' work, Foxwell said. For certain types of computing tasks, clusters of x86 computers can complement and, in some circumstances, replace high-throughput symmetric multiprocessing machines.

To address this growing market, Sun has developed a number of new offerings. The company offers a number of x86 servers, including the V60x and V65x. These have two or four processors per server and run either Linux or Solaris.

In November, the company announced that it signed a partnership with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to offer 64-bit machines built on the Sunnyvale, Calif., company's chips. Foxwell said that he could not disclose details of the deal.

Sun could help AMD further develop the Opteron 64-bit processor, drawing on Sun's experience developing the 64-bit Sparc. Sun itself plans to offer two- and four-way Opteron servers running Linux or Solaris.

The company is also re-emphasizing its support for Solaris, its Unix operating system, for the x86 platform.

Not only is Sun using open-source commodity computing to meet the demands of back offices, but it is also bundling the technology for a market it is not traditionally known for serving'end-user desktop computing.

In November, Sun introduced a Linux desktop OS, the Java Desktop System (Click to link to Dec. 5, 2003, GCN story). JDS will cost $50 per year per user, although it may be discounted for government users, company spokesman Simon Phipps said.

The desktop OS is based on Linux distributions and uses Suse distributions. Sun might use other Linux distributions, maybe even Solaris, for JDS in the future. Foxwell said the premium that Sun brings is in assuring that different pieces of open-source software work together seamlessly. The company also will provide security updates and other crucial software patches in cases, even if the original developers no longer support the packages.

'So when you have a problem, you will go Sun,' rather than to the developers of the original application, Foxwell said.

Despite the talk about open-source and commodity hardware, Foxwell also stressed that Sun will continue to support and develop both the Solaris OS and its Sparc machines.

'We have a long road map ahead of us for evolving Sparc and Solaris. We have not backed off,' he said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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