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Sun Microsystems has taken another step toward turning the once forgotten Solaris x86 operating system into a money making venture with a new pricing scheme designed to attract Opteron and Xeon server customers to the software.

Sun has started a volume licensing plan for Solaris x86 that includes discounts when customers buy the OS in 100, 500 or 2,000 units. The new pricing requires an annual payment that ranges from $50,000 (100 servers) to $800,000 (2,000 servers), including support. One of the biggest benefits from the plan is that customers pay the same price regardless of how many processors their servers have - up to 4 CPUs per machine.

"This promotion makes Solaris the most competitively priced OS on x86 systems and will be attractive to both existing Solaris customers that are heavily invested in Sun's OS, as well as new customers that may have been on the fence before," said John Loiacono, Sun's software chief.

Customers buying UltraSPARC-based servers traditionally receive Solaris at no charge. By contrast, Sun sells Solaris x86 for Opteron and Xeon servers for $250 on a two processor server, $1,500 on a four processor box and $2,500 on an 8 processor box. Support costs then range from $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the server and type of support.

So for 1,500 two-way boxes and 500 four-way boxes, customers would pay $1,125,000 in license costs alone.

Sun figures a Red Hat Enterprise Linux customer would pay $1.6m for 2,000 subscriptions and standard support and be prohibited from running the OS on four processor boxes. A Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition customer would pay $4.4m, according to Sun.

As stated before, Sun's new plan would bring the price for a similar packaged down to $800,000.

Sun's attempt at unconventional software pricing is not new. The company has been offering its Java Enterprise System (JES) stack of software for $100 per employee to large companies and its desktop OS for $50 per employee.

The Solaris x86 pricing appears to be another attempt to spur the adoption of otherwise not terribly popular software. (It wasn't long ago that Sun shelved the OS all together.) Sun does have more than 850,000 registered licenses of Solaris x86, but many of these are simply for test machines or university customers.

Sun is hoping that Solaris x86 becomes the standard Unix option on x86 boxes. Sun argues that the OS is more mature and secure than either Linux or Windows. Promoting the OS also fits in well with Sun's newfound love for the Opteron processor, giving Sun a direct channel to push Solaris into new markets. ®

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