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Even for close Sun Microsystems watchers, it's often tough to figure out exactly what software is in or out of the Java Enterprise System (JES) stack or exactly how Sun is pricing the package. This confusion is unsurprising, given Sun officials' own position that the software experiment is in constant flux.

In an effort to add more clarity to JES, Sun moved last month to appoint a new Chief Technology Officer solely in charge of monitoring the software stack. Craig Gering used to head up Sun's portal and identity server divisions and will now work to create a "coherent roadmap" with JES, El Reg has learned. Gering's task will not be easy, as Sun is moving through unchartered territory with JES.

Sun launched JES last year, saying it planned to combine all its enterprise software into a single stack sold at $100 per employee to large companies. This includes Sun's portal server, application server, identity server, Web server, clustering software and other similar products. The pricing model - a drastic departure from per processor and per user licensing schemes - continues to grab attention.

But simple as it may seem, Sun is struggling to tweak the JES pricing for countries, small companies and even parts of large companies. Just this week, Sun told reporters it's trying to figure out how to sell the JES package to entire nations to provide schools with a software infrastructure or manage citizen information, for example. Sun expects to hammer out the details by June and is contemplating selling code for, say, 50 cents a citizen.

Sun is also looking at ways to price JES for divisions of large companies. All of GE may not need JES, but GE Plastics just might. Eventually, Sun could narrow this down to include an HR department, for example. But again, the pricing has not been finalized.

If you do buy JES, the products that are in the package are in a constant state of change. Sun, for example, does not include identity management products acquired in the Waveset buy or its grid software. But Waveset technology is coming on board with the next quarterly release of JES. The grid technology will likely take longer as Sun is trying to have the software tap into all parts of the JES stack to make divvying up workloads easier for customers, said John Fowler, Sun's CTO of software.

Stacking up

One point of contention for some customers could be Sun's exclusion of storage management software from JES. Sun currently sells the Enterprise Storage Manager as a separate product. The same goes for Sun's high-end file system technology.

"We are constantly evaluating new packages to see what to put in JES," Fowler said. "But the point is that it should be simple. Customers should not have to chose from a million products."

Sun may roll out a more administrator-oriented JES package at some point. It currently sells a developer package, JDS (Java Desktop System) and the standard JES bundle. The fourth bundle would include the bits and pieces needed to manage server and storage systems as opposed to software for running and managing applications.

If you are not confused yet, try figuring out what operating systems can run JES. Sun, of course, supports Solaris for SPARC and Solaris x86. By May, Sun will roll out JES for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. By the end of the year, large portions of JES will also be available for HP-UX and even, take a deep breath, Windows.

And just to cover all the bases, customers can try JES free of charge for 90 days, if they use Solaris. Sun also has a hardware/software bundle that includes its developer and JES stacks along with an Opteron server for $1,499 per year over three years.

What does all this add up to?

Basically, Sun looks ready to sell cheap software packages to any interested customers even if it doesn't always know what it's selling or how to price the code. Sun made its name changing the game in hardware, and is now having a crack at innovating software pricing.

Has anyone out there received a JES pitch from Sun? We'd like to know what you thought of the deal. ®

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