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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc is moving towards unified release cycles and simplified pricing for software components of its desktop and server stack, to build market share and undercut Microsoft Corp's rival products,

writes Gavin Clarke

.

Santa Clara, California-based Sun said Friday its goal is to unify release cycles of its ONE Application Server, Portal, Network and Identity servers with Solaris by the start of July 2003, the end of the company's current fiscal year.

Sun is also working to deliver a single, simplified pricing structure across the software products, furthering unification of the products and - ultimately - integration.

Software group executive vice president Jonathan Schwartz told journalists Friday that Sun hoped to devise a structure that replaced its current diverse pricing models, where application server customers are charged per CPU while portal customers are charged according to numbers of users.

Schwartz said Sun had yet to finalize a structure, but he talked of possibly charging organizations according to higher levels of "scale and availability". Schwartz said that could see Sun charge customers as they add more users to a system.

By homogenizing price, Sun believes it can also appeal to companies seeking to simplify their cost structures. "For a CIO, they don't want to face price per CPU or portal charges. They want to ask 'What's my cost?'," Schwartz said.

Driving the company's thinking is a desire to exploit a high-level of dissatisfaction among chief information officers (CIO) over total cost of ownership (TCO) and licensing of software, especially from Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft. The company has taken to customer feed back and crunching its numbers in an attempt to undercut pricing offered by competing systems from Microsoft.

"CIOs are very frustrated that in the depth of a recession, the worst we have seen, Microsoft can come up with stunning revenues. Every discussion we have we finish by asking: what is your current price per user, and what is the threshold at which you will swap," Schwartz said.

Microsoft reported first quarter revenues last month that jumped 26% to $7.75bn. The company attributed the spike to customers that are rushing to renew existing Select and Open Agreements rather than adopt Software Assurance, introduced in August and seen as more expensive.

Sun believes unified release cycles for its products will also reduce customers' TCO. Unified release cycles would - theoretically - mean all products share the same code base and security patches, for example. The company estimates installation of a single software patch costs a customer $300,000.

"We need to get everything synched-up... rather than doing it buck shot," Schwartz said. "By the end of the fiscal year, we want to get there - one release of everything."

The company's ability to deliver on such a coordinated front is in question, though. One Delivery of the Sun ONE Application Server Enterprise Edition - planned for "early" 2003 is in question, with a "revenue" release due in either April or May. The Platform and Standard Editions missed their September shipment dates, arriving in October.

The company has said that re-writing the iPlanet code to include high-end features such as its Cluster-based clustering technology into the Enterprise Edition is taking longer than expected.

Meanwhile, Sun plans to ship its increasingly integrated portal, network and identity offering in three versions based on the underlying Application Server packaging. Stephen Pelletier, vice president of network identity, communications and portal, said three versions of the portal, network and identity servers would ship in accordance with the Platform, Standard and Enterprise Editions of the application server.

Sun additionally hopes to reduce TCO with a planned provisioning server. The server, part of Sun's N1 strategy, will allocate user rights and security privileges, and handle quality of service. Sun will make a detailed announcement during the next 30 days, Schwartz said.

© ComputerWire

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