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Sun squares up to Oracle with Red Hat challenge

Take Solaris, please

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Sun Microsystems has joined the Red Hat hunting party, announcing features and subscriptions for Solaris designed to out-gun and undercut its Linux rival.

Sun is packing yet-more high-end capabilities into Solaris around trusted extensions, clusters and common criteria evaluation. It hopes to improve availability and security for web servers and other lower end x86 systems.

The server maker is introducing support for Xen, allowing customers potentially to partition servers to run Solaris along with other operating systems or to run multiple versions of Solaris with the low-cost open source hypervisor.

Also, Sun has re-worked its existing Solaris subscription plan with pricing the company claims will undercut "comparable" offerings from Red Hat by at least 10 per cent.

Support starts at $49 per incident, beating not only Red Hat but also Oracle, which fired the starting gun on the race to out flank Red Hat in October.

In a further nod towards both Oracle and Red Hat, Sun is introducing Sun Connection - a service that can forward software updates to Red Hat and SuSE Linux in addition to systems running Solaris. Sun Connection will mange configuration changes and "eventually" enable users to redeploy systems, Sun said.

Still not tempted by Solaris? Sun has restructured its Solaris reseller and customer migration programs to woo partners and those being "forced" to migrate off legacy versions of Red Hat. According to Sun, the Solaris Ready Program for Resellers "offers one of the highest operating system margins" in the industry. The not-so-subtly named "Hats off to Solaris Program" targets customers moving from Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 with tools, documentation and services.

Sun is angling for the "web tier", which - translated - means web 2.0 start-ups and edge-of-network servers in businesses. The older members of Sun's marketing and evangelism teams will be familiar with this push, which succeeded during the late 1990s via Solaris and failed from 2001 on when Sun birthed, killed, birthed and killed again its Linux efforts.

The vendor has been working to overcome the pricey reputation of Solaris/SPARC kit, which has hurt Sun's lower-end, "web tier" play. It has largely turned to a new fleet of x86 servers and a "resurgent" Solaris x86 to combat Linux.

The big question, however, remains for customers considering Solaris over Linux on the low end - "why bother?" Solaris might have clustering, fail-over and Xen, but it's entering a market where many already see Red Hat as providing the security and reliability needed to meet most users’ needs. Don't forget, too, Red Hat will add Xen to its operating system later this year.

Price and quality of support will be key issues. Observers will be calculating and re-computing the Sun versus Red Hat numbers. Sun has claimed that it’s cheaper than Red Hat, but it’s not exactly a straight comparison and the choice will not be that straight forward for potential customers. The Solaris support deal goes from $240 to $1,180 per year for one- to two-socket Opteron servers with customers needing to pick between basic and premium plans.

That compares to Red Hat’s Standard Edition for Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES on $799 per system or $1,499 per system for Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS. Clearly, standard is a relative definition.

Oracle sent Wall St pulses racing in October when it announced it would undercut Red Hat with Unbreakable Linux Network (ULN), raising the prospect of mass migrations.

However, as results from Oracle and Red Hat’s latest fiscal quarters proved, price alone has not been enough to make customers switch. Red Hat chief executive Matthew Szulik said customers want more than just 10 per cent shaved off the support price - they want the Red Hat brand. That apparently means a focus on quality and proven capabilities. ®

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