IBM and Red Hat launch Solaris-to-Linux migration program

Platform migration programs are nothing new, and neither are strategic partnerships, but IBM and Red Hat's Solaris-to-Linux server migration program throws a spotlight on some significant trends around Linux, the server market and persistent perceptions of Solaris creator Sun Microsystems.

The program, jointly announced last week, provides a free migration assessment from IBM's Systems & Technology Group for qualified customers seeking to move from Solaris to Linux on IBM eServer xSeries, BladeCenter, iSeries, pSeries, OpenPower and zSeries platforms. The migration services themselves, which are fee-based, are provided by the IBM Migration Factory, which also supports migration of Oracle databases from non-IBM Windows and Unix platforms to Red Hat and Novell SUSE Linux on IBM platforms.

Big Blue has completed some 500 HP/UX- and Solaris-to-AIX customer migrations since early 2004, the company reports. More than 3,000 of its approximately 12,000 Linux customer engagements have involved moving customers from a Solaris environment to Linux, says Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide Linux for IBM.

Paul Cormier, EVP of engineering at Linux and open-source solutions provider Red Hat, declared at the time of the announcement that enterprise migration from Solaris to Linux is "inevitable." Chris Ratcliffe, Sun's director of operating system marketing, shot back that the program was an "act of desperation" from two companies threatened by the market momentum of the latest version of Sun's OS.

Speaking with AppTrends a few days later, Ratcliffe turned down the heat on his initial reaction. "To a degree, these sorts of programs are business as usual," he said. "But we believe that this one is very much a direct response to what's happening in the market-specifically the tremendous momentum of Solaris 10."

Sun invested more than $500 million of the company's $1.9 billion R&D budget in its new operating system, which was launched in February as a free download. Ratcliffe says that Sun has issued just over 1.4 million Solaris 10 licenses since the launch. Sun has also generated a great deal of interest around its plans to release the OS to the open-source community as OpenSolaris by the end of June.

Despite this level of commitment, and generally high marks from users, the platform most affected by the advent of Linux in the enterprise over the past two years has been Solaris running on Sun's high-end SPARC servers, says Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio. Most of the wholesale defection to Linux has come at the expense of that midrange Sun architecture, she says.

"Virtually none of the considerable number of customers that I have spoken with over the past several years has had any complaint about the performance or service and support that Sun offers," DiDio explains. "The migrations are coming for one simple reason: organizations can dramatically reduce their hardware costs when they switch from the proprietary, RISC-based boxes and go to Linux running on a commodity Intel or AMD box."

Another problem looming for Sun: 2000 was a peak year for the sale of its servers, and customers who have been deferring upgrades because of skin-tight budgets now have boxes that are long in the tooth. "We are going to see the biggest mass migration wave since 1999 of hardware, software and network infrastructure," says DiDio. "Customers have to migrate off those old boxes at some point, and not just Sun's boxes."

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, VP and research director at UK-based analyst firm Ovum, suspects that the IBM-Red Hat migration program is, at least in part, a reaction to a recent "resurgence of interest" in Solaris. "Sun isn't booming again," he says, "but they are certainly showing serious signs of life, and that's not supposed to be happening."

And therein lies Sun's biggest challenge in the coming "dogfight" for operating-system market share, says DiDio. It's not the clearly formidable combination of IBM and Red Hat aligned to grab its Solaris customers, but the company's image.

"The perception is-and I stress the word 'perception'-that Sun is in a weakened position, and that it's ripe for the plucking," DiDio says. "For the past three years it has been seen as a company on the defensive, whose sales in its core market were contracting. They've got to turn that perception around." "I don't believe that Sun is as vulnerable as some in the industry have suggested," Pelz-Sharpe adds. "They have a lot of cash and an enormous installed base-an installed based that has got to be the envy of many. "

Furthermore, says DiDio, now that Solaris 10 runs on commodity Intel x86 architecture machines and AMD Opteron- and Intel Xeon-based 64-bit systems, Sun has a powerful story, if Sun can get the word out.

"If nobody is complaining about the functionality of their products, and it's just a price issue, and they move this thing that everybody likes to a commodity box, that move more than levels the playing field," DiDio says. "Of course, that's coming from a purely technical perspective. In this industry, as we all know, great marketing will get you further faster than great technology. And at the end of the day, you need both."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].