The X Factor: Solaris Versus Linux Support Pricing
Published: January 25, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Since Solaris 10 was announced nearly two years ago, Sun Microsystems has been determined to convince any and all that its Unix variant, which was taken open source and made freely available in binaries as well like Linux, is not only spiritually like Linux, but better and cheaper, too. With the initial Solaris 10 support pricing announced in early 2005, Solaris 10 support was certainly a lot less expensive than Linux. But a lot has changed since then.
For one thing, Sun just raised its prices on Solaris 10 support. Moreover, Novell, which finds itself in a very tough battle with Linux juggernaut and very profitable Red Hat, came out swinging in the summer of 2006 with extremely aggressive support licenses for its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10. Red Hat, which came under fire from database maker and Linux wannabe Oracle with its Unbreakable Linux support contracts, is apparently charging a big enough premium for support on its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 products that everyone who has an open source Linux or Unix operating system is reckoning their prices against what Red Hat is charging. (Apologies to FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD, which do not offer enterprise-grade support but which have very cheap licenses and very good software nonetheless.)
When Solaris 10 was first put into the market--and before Sun had attained an order of magnitude in the number of downloads more than it had originally expected, as it did when it broke through 6 million registered downloads in late 2006--Sun's pricing model was so easy that you could say it in a quick sentence. Basic support cost $120 per CPU socket per year and it provided online patch support and Web-based tech support. Standard service with human support added on a 9x5 business hour basis cost $240 per socket per year, while and 24x7 premium support costing $360 per socket per year.
With the roll out of the Solaris 10 11/06 update this month, Sun changed up its pricing a bit, and raised its prices, too. The company also shifted back to a per-system price and away from a per-socket model, and did so for what it called a more "apples to apples" comparison with Linux--and when Sun says Linux in a competitive situation, it means "Red Hat" and when it says Linux in a friendly way, it means "Ubuntu," which is not much of a threat to Sun's business with its Ubuntu Long Term Server product.
Under the new pricing scheme, Sun is charging based on the number of sockets in a system and the type of processors--X64 or Sparc--used in the system. Like Novell, Sun is giving a discount if customers ink a three-year contract--something that Red Hat doesn't do on its online price list, but which it certainly does in practice. Sun is offering a $49 annual developer support contract for nerds who just want email support and who don't want to pay much for support, since they know plenty themselves. This is not really a data center product. The entry support offering for Solaris 10 on servers now is the Basic plan, which costs $240 a year on machines with up to two sockets, whether they are Sparc or X64 sockets. The Basic plan includes 30 days of telephone support with real people and a year of Web-based support. A three-year contract costs $648, which is a 10 percent discount over the cost of buying three annual licenses in a row.
The Basic plan is not available on machines with more than two sockets, however. Once you have bigger iron, you have to move up to Standard service, which provides 12-hour, five business day support, including telephone as well as Web support. Standard support costs the same on X64 or Sparc machines with one or two sockets--$720 for a one-year contract and $1,980 for a three-year contract--but as machines get larger, the bill gets larger on Sparc-based machines. (Something Sun neglected to point out as part of the 11/06 update launch for Solaris 10.) One X64 servers with three or more sockets--all the way up to eight socket machines made by Sun or others--Standard support costs $1,320 per year and you get a 9 percent discount if you ink a three-year deal. On Sparc boxes, machines with three or four sockets have to pay $1,440 for a one-year contract and machines with between five and eight sockets have to pay $2,880. (Again, a three-year contract gets you a 9 percent discount on the Standard plan.)
For the high-end handholding at Sun, you move up to the Premium plan, which has 24x7 telephone and Web support plus coverage for all of the open source and commercial applications that run atop Solaris 10. Again, on entry X64 and Sparc boxes with only one or two sockets, pricing is the same--$1,080 for a one-year contract and a 9 percent discount if you go for a three-year gig--but as machines get bigger, the Sparc support for Solaris 10 gets more costly. On an X64 machine with three or more sockets, Solaris 10 support under the Premium plan costs $1,980, but on a Sparc box with three or four sockets, it costs $2,160 and on a machine with between five and eight sockets, it costs $4,320. Presumably, prices continue to scale up on larger Sparc boxes, which can have as many as 72 sockets.
Red Hat's pricing is simpler, and is, like Sun's, based on the scalability of the server. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 comes in two flavors for servers--the ES variant for machines with up to two sockets and the AS variant for machines that have three or more sockets. RHEL 4 ES Basic support, which comes with 30 days of installation support and one year of Web-based support and access to the Red Hat Network for patch updates, costs $349. RHEL 4 ES also comes with Standard support, which covers the 12 hour, five day business hours and provides four-hour response times on problems; it costs $799. On RHEL 4 AS, which is more scalable, this same Standard support costs $1,499 and there is no Basic support option. And finally, RHEL 4 AS Premium support, which costs $2,499, provides one-hour response on tech problems and all the other goodies on a 24 hour, seven day basis. There is no Premium support option for RHEL 4 ES.
Over at Novell, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server comes with three levels of support and one-year and three-year options on that support--with discounts on the longer-term contracts. The basic license to SLES 10 for X64 servers costs $349, and it can be used on a machine with any number of sockets--Novell just doesn't care. Customers who opt for a three-year license to this level of support, which just provides 90-day installation support and one year of Web-based support plus patches, can get a 17 percent discount. Novell's Standard support contract for SLES 10 provides 12x5 business day coverage with a four-hour response time from the Novell tech support team, and it costs $799. (Again, with a three-year contract, Standard support prices are cut by 17 percent.) With Priority support, Novell goes to 24x7 coverage and moves to the same one-hour response time, and boosts the price to $1,499--again, regardless of the number of CPU sockets in the server.
(Both Novell and Red Hat are charging $18,000 per engine for their top-end support on IBM's System z mainframes running Linux, by the way. This is expensive compared to X64-based Linux, but it is a steal compared to z/OS licensing.)
While Sun was making a lot of noise about how its prices were lower for Solaris 10 support than others charge for Linux, what can be honestly said is that in many cases, this is true, and in some others, it is not. Customers with midrange Sparc boxes pay more for Solaris 10 support than X64 customers will pay for Red Hat or Novell support for their Linux. In general, Sun's pricing on X64 iron for Solaris 10 support is 31 percent lower for basic support on RHEL 4 or SLES 10 on a two-socket box. Standard support is only 10 percent cheaper than RHEL 4 or SLES 10 support on these same machines, and on bigger X64 boxes, it is only 12 percent cheaper than RHEL 4 and SLES 10 is actually 39 percent cheaper than Solaris 10. On Sparc machines with a lot of sockets, Solaris 10 is actually two to four times more expensive than Linux, depending on which one you pick. The same spread holds true for a comparison of the top-end support options for Solaris and Linux.
And Red Hat will, of course, get the last word on this when it ships RHEL 5 at the end of February. Red Hat could end up being a lot more aggressive on pricing--or simply hold its ground, believing that Solaris 10, SLES 10, and Unbreakable Linux are not much of a threat at all.
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