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Dell chases Sparc shops with migration offer

You and everybody else, Michael

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Server makers have been picking on the Sparc/Solaris base for so long that it seems normal. But with faith in Sun Microsystems being shaken after it rejected a takeover bid by rival IBM two weekends ago, and with Sun announcing its own "Nehalem EP" Xeon 5500 servers today, Dell decided that this was a particularly good time to announce services and financing to help Sparc customers make the jump to Dell iron using Linux - or Solaris, if they insist.

Both Hewlett-Packard and IBM have had active Sparc/Solaris migrations programs for many years - basically since the IT recession following the dot-com bust coincided with Sun's underpowered and overpriced UltraSparc-III processors and their related servers. And when Sun finally got decent UltraSparc-IV+ iron into the field in early 2006, Sun itself had its own Blue Away and HP Away marketing programs to try to move Power/AIX and Itanium/HP-UX server shops to move to the Sparc/Solaris combo.

In their most recent incarnations, both IBM and HP have deployed a slick application emulation technology called QuickTransit, created by Transitive, to port and run Sparc/Solaris applications on-the-fly to Linux. In July 2007, HP used QuickTransit as a means to run these Sparc/Solaris applications on its ProLiant x64-based rack and blade servers, which two months earlier Sun itself had backed as a means of helping Sparc shops migrate legacy Solaris applications to its Opteron-based x64 servers.

IBM started dabbling with QuickTransit as a means to move 32-bit Linux applications compiled for x86 machines to its Power servers running the Power variant of Linux, but put the kibosh on HP's and Sun's enthusiasm for QuickTransit when Big Blue acquired Transitive back in November.

Dell didn't bring up QuickTransit today and seems inclined to use other means to get Sun shops to dump their Sparc/Solaris iron and move to x64 boxes running Linux.

Dell's Unix-to-Linux migration services are not just aimed at Sun's gear, but Sun was singled out as the vendor that Dell was targeting most. Technically, the marketing program is known as RISC Migration Solutions, which you can read more about here. It outlines the typical price/performance analysis (ours beat theirs by X and costs Y percent less. . . . ) that all server makers cook up as part of their sales pitch.

But there are some nuts and bolts here, too. Dell has put together a bunch of detailed migration guides to help shops using Sun's UltraSparc-based V440 servers move to PowerEdge R900 machines running either Linux or Solaris. The V440 is a four-socket UltraSparc-IIIi server that was withdrawn years ago, while the R900 is Dell's four-socket rack server that supports Intel's six-core "Dunnington" Xeon 7400 series of chips.

Dell needs to put together a whole lot more such guides, including a wider range of UltraSparc-III and UltraSparc-IV machinery on the Sun side and its new Xeon 5500 servers on the PowerEdge side. Sun shops are not going to buy a Dunnington box when a Nehalem box costs less and has as much performance, as it does on many workloads, so this comparison is somewhat bogus. That said, the step-by-step migration guide is still useful.

Dell is also bringing to bear various Unix-to-Linux migration services, where Dell gives advice on what infrastructure customers need to buy and if customers want Dell to do the work, to actually figure out how to move applications and then do the job. To help prospects get a sense of what might be involved, Dell has created the Unix Migration ROI Calculator, which does TCO and ROI calculations on proposed migrations.

Dell has also looked at the operating expense side of migrations, and created a Power and Space Savings Calculator that shows the effects in terms of power, cooling, and space when customers consolidate applications running on old servers to new PowerEdge boxes.

The final bit of the deal is to give customers with good credit various financing terms to do the migration, helping them get the ROI without having to shell all the cash out for the migration up front.

Competitive replacements are an exception, not a rule, in the data center, but even a couple of hundred deals on midrange and high-end servers per year can account for billions of dollars in revenue over the life of a deal (say three to five years, including upgrades), and the cost for such marketing efforts is fairly small compared to the results.

Having said that, most transitions from one server platform to another happen by themselves, usually because of economic conditions or technical prejudices. You can grease the skids a little, but customers already have to be willing to make the move before you get your foot in the door. ®

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