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IBM and Sun debate support decision on Solaris 10 for x86

IBM won’t be testing, certifying, or supporting its enterprise software applications on Solaris 10 for x86 platforms--at least not until demand for the latest release of Sun Microsystems’s UNIX-based operating system warms up.

"Decisions like this are based on demand from our customers," IBM spokesperson Ron Favali tells eADT. "We’re not seeing the level of customer interest required to make this decision to go ahead and support [Solaris 10 for x86]." Needless to say, Sun is not happy about IBM’s position. Larry Singer, VP of Sun’s Global Information Systems, says the decision smacks of anti-competitive practices.

"I think IBM wants to force people onto its Power5 [dual-core-RISC-processor] environment," Singer says. "If their software runs on this x86 environment, with the market economics of [AMD’s] Opteron and [Intel’s] Xeon, and Dell’s prices, they’re afraid it will drive people off the Power5."

IBM’s Favali denies that charge. "You only need to look at the platforms that IBM supports to know that that’s not true," he says. "Our WebSphere software supports more than 30 industry platforms. That’s the most in the industry, and that includes support for the [SPARC] version of Solaris," he says. A number of IBM’s most popular enterprise applications currently run on the Solaris OS, Favali says, including DB2, Informix, Lotus, Tivoli and WebSphere. All of these products are available for Solaris 8 and 9, and they will also be available for the SPARC version of Solaris 10, he says.

Solaris 10 for Sun’s SPARC processors and x86 platforms are both set to ship by the end of March. To date, more than 700,000 early release versions of the OS have been downloaded from the Solaris Express Web site, Singer claims.

"It is hard for a software vendor to support every platform out there," Singer admits, "and you do have to make considered decisions about which ones to support. But all the other large ISVs have already ported their applications [to Solaris for x86]. SAP, Oracle, BEA, Veritas, Seibel Systems; they all compete with us, but they’ve done the market analysis and determined that they will be supporting it. And before it’s commercially available, 700,000 separate users have decided that it’s worth looking at in early-release status. That should tell them something."

Sun is something of a born-again convert to x86. The company had all but abandoned the low-cost CISC processor architecture until the spring of 2003, when Sun CEO Scott McNealy issued a public mea culpa and launched a new line of x86-based servers. "I admit it," McNealy said at the time. "We didn’t understand this gem." There was, McNealy said, an "amazing appetite out there" for Solaris on x86.

IBM has by no means closed the door on the new Solaris OS, Favali says. "If the level of demand from our customers increases, obviously, we will revisit the situation," he says. "We develop solutions across the company based on feedback from our customers. If a customer asks for it, IBM will port middleware products to Solaris for x86."

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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