IBM and Red Hat Chase the Solaris Base Some More
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Sun Microsystems has been picking on Red Hat for the past several months, making it the poster boy for why Linux is too expensive compared to its new Solaris 10 Unix. And so Red Hat has enlisted the aid of IBM to go after the juiciest market in the world: the vast installed base of Solaris servers that were deployed in 2000 and early 2001. These Solaris machines are looking a little long in the tooth and are due for upgrading after being in the field for four or five years.
Sun knows this, of course, and is trying to blunt the attack that Linux server and workstation vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell and the commercial Linux distributors such as Red Hat and Novell have been waging against Solaris for several years. This is why Solaris 10 is available for free on servers with four or fewer processor sockets, why Sun is getting ready to take Solaris 10 open source as OpenSolaris by the end of June, and why it is giving away security patches to Solaris 10 and selling very inexpensive support services for Solaris 10 (like for $120 to $360 per processor socket per year). As much as Sun has been hurt by the sluggish economy in general and its own product transitions--it has finally seen the light on the X64 platform after years of waffling--it has also been aided in some ways by that sluggishness. Sun's key server customers in the telecommunications, service provider, dot-com, and financial services sectors of the worldwide economy were not in any position during the IT recession of the past several years to invest in new gear. So as much as Sun's competitors could hammer on these companies to move off expensive Sun iron and Solaris software, they were not going to do anything. With the economy improved a little and the Sun installed base aging, customers are more inclined to think about moving off older Sparc iron and older Solaris releases to more powerful machines and virtualized servers that make better use of the iron. And luckily for Sun, it has changed its marketing plan for Solaris just in time to have a chance of getting most of its base to shore before the Linux piranhas come and strip the flesh off their bones.
I said Sun had a chance. Then again, so do the piranhas. Just remember that as this year and next year unfold. There may not be as much blood in the water for Sun as last year, but the water still has a distinctly iron taste to it.
Last week, Red Hat and IBM announced they had extended their partnership for Linux on the mainframe. This is not a direct attack on Sun, but an indirect attack on any non-mainframe platforms that mainframe shops have in their sites. With Sun having the largest Unix market share among the core Global 2000 companies and these companies being big buyers of Unix kit in the past 15 years, any infrastructure simplification and hybrid MVS-Linux consolidation play is going after Sun workloads a lot of the time. IBM has somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 mainframe sites, and as of the end of the year, about 1,700 of them had Linux in production or in pilot at their installations. IBM has tweaked a version of the VM operating system, called it the Integrated Facility for Linux, and is letting mainframe shops install hundreds or thousands of virtual Linux instances on their machines. At $18,000 a pop, an annual license to Red Hat Linux seems cheap compared to MVS and the more modern z/OS operating systems for mainframes, which cost companies from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to rent. And for Red Hat, such an expensive license (which has 24x7 support) is a lot more profitable than selling a license for an X86 server for a few hundred or a few thousand bucks. IBM says that since it ported Linux to the mainframe, Linux has reached a level where it is driving about 10 percent of overall mainframe sales; that works out to roughly $350 million to $390 million a year. To put it another way: the mainframe base would be in decline were it not for Linux.
This is why Red Hat and IBM want to make it easier for companies to install Linux on their mainframes, and to that end they have created a single solution that allows customers who are ordering a zSeries mainframe or an upgrade to one to be able to order engines sold with the Integrated Facility for Linux and a subscription to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 all in one package--and at a slight discount as well. The companies also last week announced they would be extending their co-marketing and co-development efforts on the mainframe, but they declined to elaborate on what this might be. IBM is very keen on getting as many of the 6,000 Linux applications that are running on X86 platforms as makes sense ported to the mainframe, and has worked with partners to get about 700 of them moved over thus far.
This week, the two companies are going after Sun more directly with something that IBM is calling the Solaris to Linux Migration Factory. According to Scott Handy, IBM's vice president of worldwide Linux, IBM has had about 12,000 engagements with customers since it jumped into the Linux market in 2000, and about 3,000 of those engagements involved moving from Solaris to Linux. (Engagements do not mean deals, but rather tire kicking that can, but often do not, result in a deal.) In September 2003, IBM bought most of the assets of application porting specialist Sector7, which had been its partner in attacking its competitors' installed bases, and last year the consultants at that former unit set up a Migration Factory that did about 500 migration assessments. These assessments were paid for by the pSeries division of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, which just wanted to get the ball rolling and convince customers that they could migrate. Most of these assessments involved moving from the Solaris or HP-UX variants of Unix to AIX. Handy would not say what the conversion ratio was for assessments that turned into actual migrations, but IBM found the number one issue for customers in analyzing such migrations was the simple fact that most of them did not know how relatively easy it is to move from one Unix to another, or from Unix to Linux.
With this week's announcement, Handy has passed around the budget hat to IBM's xSeries, BladeCenter, pSeries, and iSeries groups and had them fund a set of assessments specifically aimed at moving Solaris customers to any IBM platform that supports Linux and IBM is working with Red Hat to promote these assessments. IBM and Red Hat are hoping to generate as many as 1,000 sales leads from the initiative, he says, and they have put together a 35-city roadshow for business partners and customers. They think the promotional efforts will reach as many as 50,000 people and that as many as 3,500 will attend the shows. Some two dozen business partners have already been trained to do Solaris-to-Linux migrations in conjunction with the former Sector7 staff. To get an assessment, all you have to do is go to www.ibm.com/linux and sign up.
Because applications are the key factor behind any decision to port from any platform to another, IBM spent some time analyzing the Linux application base. Handy says that of the 6,000 applications available on Linux, about 80 percent of the Unix applications that moved over from Unix to Linux are coming from the Solaris platform. (Solaris has about 12,000 applications, making it one of the richest server platforms in history.) To help move Solaris applications along on the path to Linux, IBM surveyed financial institutions last year and identified 58 key applications from 24 independent software vendors. IBM approached them and said it did not expect them to stop supporting Solaris. However, it did encourage them by pointing out they were leaving money on the table if they did not port their apps to Linux. As of this week, 22 of the 24 ISVs have committed to bring 48 of the 58 applications to Linux, and 33 of them are actually available this week. IBM and Red Hat hope the availability of those key Solaris financial applications for Linux will help make more companies jump.
The Solaris to Linux Migration Factory service is in testing mode right now in the United States, Europe, and Asia/Pacific and will be generally available on June 1. The assessments to figure out what needs to be done as part of a Solaris-to-Linux migration are free, but the porting services, hardware, and software to do this obviously will not be. Incidentally, just because IBM is leading with Red Hat in this offering does not mean that companies cannot deploy Novell SUSE Linux. They can, and IBM expects that some customers will. IBM will also be offering services to help companies move C and C++ applications using Solaris tools to Linux equivalents, as well as migration services for moving Oracle databases on Solaris to Oracle or DB2 databases on Linux. IBM did not provide pricing on these services, of course.