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McNealy sees the light, Sun unveils x86 Servers

Admitting that his company "kind of waffled on Solaris x86," Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy unveiled two new Intel x86-based servers this week, while disclosing plans for expanded relationships with Red Hat, Inc., and long-time partner Oracle Corp.

"I admit it," McNealy told reporters gathered in San Francisco for the announcement on Monday. "We didn't understand this gem (x86 processors)." McNealy said that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison suggested that Sun hadn't deliver on the promise of Solaris on the x86 architecture. When Sun hinted that it might not release Solaris 9 on x86 at the same time as Solaris 9 on SPARC, letters to the editor published in the San Jose Mercury News "telling me how brain dead I was," McNealy said. "Larry confirmed that at a dinner meeting. So we've got that figured, out and we're going at it very aggressively."

The $2,450 Sun Fire V60x and $2,650 V65x servers are priced lower than comparable servers from IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Dell Computer Corp., contended McNealy. Both can run either Sun Solaris x86 Platform Edition or Red Hat Linux operating systems. The new servers offer 2.8 GHz or 3.06 GHz Intel Xeon processors, six PCI-X slots, and support for 12 GB of memory. Sun’s newest machines offer greater expandability than IBM, HP, or Dell, McNealy claimed.

Sun also said it is dropping the price of its other x86-based system, Sun LX50, by 30%. A basic configuration of LX50 now starts at $1,995.

McNealy now declares there is an "amazing appetite out there" for Solaris on x86. Sun has signed up 100 partners in the last 100 days, he said, and developers have created thousands of applications for the platform to date.

The Sun-Oracle alliance, in place in various forms for nearly 20 years, has been expanded to focus on low-cost servers, McNealy said. Although Sun hadn’t previously supported x86 or Linux for all of Oracles products, Oracle software users now “have absolute, total choice across our entire product line and Oracle's product line,” McNealy said.

Sun is also expanding its partnership with Linux distributor, Red Hat. Sun will sell and support all three x86 versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, including support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux on third-party, Red Hat-certified hardware. Red Hat will bundle Sun's JVM with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Java and Linux together will give customers alternatives to proprietary products from Microsoft, McNealy said.

Sun's support for Linux on x86 is part of the company’s stated mission to deliver an integrated, open-standards-based software system. McNealy reaffirmed Sun’s oft-made claim that it is behind “well-organized” Linux and open-source software development. However, enterprise users of open source systems want and need the support of a large, well-trained support organization, he said. "We think open-source is great," McNealy said. "Everything we do plays with open-source, big-time," he said.

McNealy observed that there have been 4.5 million downloads of Sun's StarOffice for Linux office suite.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison joined McNealy during the press conference, which was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “I can't think of much that we're not doing together as companies,” he said. “I even have keys to Larry's yacht.” He later asked Ellison, tongue in check, whether Oracle was the company that was going to buy Sun. An article published in the New York Times that morning had speculated on a Sun acquisition. In response, Ellison quipped, “I just want my keys back.”

To a question about whether Oracle is going to run its business on Sun’s Linux, Ellison replied, “We’re already a Linux-Solaris shop. All of Oracle production is on either Linux or Solaris… We have a whole lot of Sun machines, and we have some Intel machines. But we’ve never had the opportunity to buy Intel-Linux machines from Sun before. Now we are going to be sourcing some of those Linux machines from Sun. Sun is our biggest partner, and we are theirs.”

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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