Net cheers IBM's rejection of Solaris x86

Executive blog is full of meme

Column Why doesn't every major executive have a blog? The medium seems to serve as a way to say just about anything and have the message picked up by the media.

Take Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz's blog as an example. He currently sits at the top of the brass-blogging food chain and is taking pleasure from abusing rivals' news cycles. At the end of last week, he issued an open letter to IBM's CEO Sam Palmisano calling on IBM to support Sun's Solaris operating system. The letter arrived via his blog, and the press lapped it up.

The San Francisco Chronicle dedicated an entire reporter to covering Schwartz's blog entry. This is a big commitment for a paper that rarely puts a full-time staffer on a story that a wire service can handle. But, sure enough, "Sun chief uses blog in challenge to IBM: Open letter calls for more compatibility with new products" appeared on Saturday. The headline was reminiscent of CNET-style gems such as "Net mourns death of Johnny Carson," "Net mourns death of Christopher Reeve," "Fans mourn Charles Schultz on Net," and "Jon Stewart 'Crossfire' feud ignites Net frenzy."

You can put "blog" or "net" in front of anything these days and turn it into a news story. It makes you wonder if "Local 6th graders mourn the loss of Johnny Carson at lunch," or "Local 6th graders mourn the loss of CNET at lunch," or "Sun chief uses blog to challenge IBM to eat more broccoli" would constitute news as well. Why not?

It has been a pleasure to get to know Schwartz over the years, but what is he on about with the IBM business?

In his blog, Schwartz makes it sound like IBM has turned a cold shoulder toward Sun's upcoming Solaris 10 operating system.

"We've repeatedly passed along customer interest in having IBM support Solaris 10 with WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Rational and MQSeries products," Schwartz wrote. "Customers have made repeated calls to you and your staff. Those same customers have now asked me to begin communicating with you in a more public and visible way - they'd like the choice to run IBM products on Solaris 10, and they're feeling that your withholding support is part of a vendor lock-in strategy. A strategy to trap them into IBM's proprietary Power5 platform only."

IBM's middleware does run today on older versions of Solaris - 8 and 9. Sun may know something we don't about IBM's Solaris 10 plans, but it seems safe to assume that IBM will port this software to Solaris 10 on SPARC eventually. IBM supports HP's version of Unix and Linux and Windows with much of its software. It goes where the money is in the middleware game. Sun's Solaris has provided a lot of business for Global Services in the past. Why stop now?

In addition, Solaris 10 isn't even shipping yet - on Sun's own servers! Sure companies such as BEA and Oracle have pledged to support the OS when it arrives, but can you really chastise one of Sun's biggest competitors for not rallying behind an OS that's not on the market?

Why doesn't Sun go ahead and port its JES (Java Enterprise System) software stack to AIX and Power as a show of good faith? That would really be something. We're sure Sun has plenty of engineers to spare for such an undertaking.

Tough sell

The real crux of Schwartz's complaints is that IBM is ignoring Solaris x86 - not Solaris for SPARC. Schwartz kind of skirts around this issue making it sound like a Solaris 10 as a whole matter. Sun's PR staffers, however, have been hounding reporters for weeks to talk about IBM specifically giving Solaris x86 the cold shoulder. They say at least 20 members of the Fortune 500 have asked IBM to port its middleware to Solaris x86. Sun, of course, won't call out these customers by name.

"So the technology is there, and so are the customers, partners and opportunities," Schwartz wrote. "But it's more evident by the day, the only vendors that fear choice are those trying to block it. We stand at the ready to help you tear down this wall."

Let's not forget that it was Sun - and not IBM - that originally decided to shelve Solaris x86. Sun has embraced the OS for just two years and has only seen anything approaching momentum around it in the last six months. To this day, Sun sells far more Linux than Solaris x86 on its Opteron- and Xeon-based servers.

And yet IBM is being called upon to "open up" and spend money, time and effort on loving a rival's fledgling operating system play? That's a tough sell.

IBM has proved that it will back Solaris if there is money to be had. If enough customers ask for Solaris x86 support, IBM is sure to deliver it. Until this critical mass is reached, IBM has every right to protect Power and save money by ignoring an OS that has yet to confirm its merits.

Schwartz likely knows this, but he also knows that people will scamper to cover his every blogged word. If the blog said it, it must be newsworthy. Makes sense, right?

Here's hoping for the headline: "Net mourns death of vacuous blog coverage." ®

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