Sun finds Linux home on network edge

Sun Microsystems is recognizing the growing importance of the Linux operating system to its future business and is evolving its product roadmap accordingly, chief executive Scott McNealy told the LinuxWorld Expo audience Tuesday.


Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm, which has Canadian offices in Markham, Ont., pre-empted McNealy’s speech with the launch Monday of a Linux-based entry-level server, the LX50. On Tuesday, it followed up his presentation by increasing the availability of its software for Linux-based enterprise grids. Finally, the company also established a US$3 million scholarship program to help fund access to Sun’s Java technology support services by not-for-profit open source developers.

McNealy told the LinuxWorld crowd that many people would be surprised to learn that Sun has already shipped more than 100,000 Linux-based hardware products, though these mostly fall into the appliance space. Two years ago, the company also bought Linux general-purpose server manufacturer Cobalt Networks for US$2 billion.

“”This is not like we have just discovered Linux or we now have to hire a bunch of Linux engineers,”” he said. “”We are here, and we’ve got the platform to support it.””

Dan Kuznetsky, an operating system analyst with research firm IDC’s Florida office, said Sun has made contributions to the open source community that compare with that of IBM and HP, but it has not communicated its Linux strategy very well so far. “”It seems that whenever they talk about Linux, they put the open source community on edge,”” he said.

The edge, McNealy said, is exactly where Sun wants to be with its Linux strategy. For McNealy, “”the edge”” includes the data centre, the network edge in the content distribution network and even the on-premise or gateway environment found in a franchise or retail environment.

“”We see a considerable volume of new business that’s beginning to emerge with Linux, but go check the stats — the growth of Linux hasn’t been on the server, it’s been on the client,”” said Sun software chief Jonathan Schwartz. “”The only growth in Linux has been on desktops. In servers, it shrank.””

Kuznetsky said that server growth did not shrink (though he acknowledged it was flat), and Sun’s positioning of Linux at the edge of the network was a way of holding the OS at arm’s length. While it does support edge computing functions, open source advocates are finding more important functions in high-performance computing, basic infrastructure for networks and database processing for certain levels of distributed applications. “”It’s pretty clear they’re trying to position Solaris as the senior member of the firm, and Linux as the newcomer/junior member of the firm,”” he said, “”whereas the Linux people feel that they are equal partners.””

Kuznetsky added that Sun could learn from IBM and HP’s approach to the Linux market, which has been built on providing services that help clients choose the right OS. McNealy, however, was dismissive of his competitors.

“”I just don’t see IBM, despite all their noise about Linux, really having any significant value-add here,”” he said, while, “”printers are to HP what services are to IBM, and everything is becoming less important.””

LinuxWorld runs until Thursday.

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