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Volume 2, Number 13 -- March 31, 2005

Can Solaris 10 Shipments Continue Upwards?

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

It took just a week longer than expected, but Sun Microsystems has broken through the 1 million shipment barrier with its new Solaris 10 Unix operating system. This is a remarkable number, given that the installed base of Sun Sparc servers is probably just over 1 million boxes. It seems like everyone who signed up for the Solaris Express beta went out and got a copy of Solaris 10--and then another 500,000 downloads were made on top of that.

Back in December, Sun said that in its entire 25-year history, it had shipped about 6.5 million SunOS and Solaris licenses. The company also said that since Solaris 8 was launched in January 2000, it had shipped about 4 million licenses of Solaris 8, Solaris 9, and the Solaris 10 beta. At that time, Solaris 10's beta, which was delivered under the Software Express program, accounted for about 500,000 shipments. So Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 together accounted for 3.5 million shipments in about four years. That works out to an average of 72,917 per month--and that average number includes an era when Unix workstations were still selling in reasonably high volumes and Sun was selling pizza box, rack-mounted servers by the hundreds of thousands to dot-coms. The ship rate for Solaris 10, by contrast, is humming along at roughly 500,000 a month.

Solaris 8 and 9 cost money, unless you were an academic and excepting a brief time when Solaris 8 was open source and free. But with Solaris 10, Sun is taking it open source through the OpenSolaris (that hasn't quite happened yet, but the process is grinding away for a second quarter delivery) and is offering binaries for the compiled version of Solaris 10 for Sparc and X86 servers for free on machines with fewer than four processors. It is hard to say how big the worldwide server market is, but there are probably close to 20 million servers installed and maybe 16 million X86 machines. Of these, many are very old and cannot run Solaris 10. There might only be a few million machines that can be running Solaris 10, in fact, until driver support and such is expanded. (At IT Jungle, we ran the Solaris 10 beta on a machine that was not certified to do so, and it worked fine. So just because a machine is not on Sun's official hardware compatibility list doesn't necessarily mean it isn't going to work.)

The good news for Sun is that the world consumes about 1.6 million to 1.8 million servers a quarter, and the odds that these new servers will be certified to run Solaris 10 are a lot better than Solaris 10 working on older iron out there in the installed base. Right now, the monthly Solaris 10 shipment rate is only just barely lagging the monthly ship rate for new servers of all architectures. It seems very unlikely that this can last.

A picture is worth a thousand words (unless you are trying to convince your editor to pay for the picture, which he won't), so I compiled the Solaris 10 beta and full release shipments that Sun has talked about publicly to date. Take a look:

Figure 1: Cumulative Solaris 10 Beta and Solaris 10 Shipments
(Source: Sun, IT Jungle)

As you can see from the chart, the Software Express beta program had a nice ramp. As Sun added more features, more people downloaded the software. There are a lot of repeat downloads in the Software Express Solaris 10 beta, of course. It is hard to figure out how many, but Sun certainly has a good idea. I would think that the 500,000 shipments of Solaris 10's beta were consumed by between 250,000 and 300,000 unique organizations. This is the case because each time Sun rolled in a new set of features, people who had already downloaded the beta did it again to get the new features. Moreover, each new set of features brought in a new set of people downloading the beta. I didn't go get it until the Solaris 10 container partitions were in it, for instance.

With the real Solaris 10, it seems unlikely that a company is downloading more than once, but I think the nerds working at a company that is a Unix shop probably did just what I did--went home and downloaded it for themselves. So there is, from a corporate viewpoint, probably some overlap in those 1 million Solaris 10 downloads, if you count what workers do with their home computers. It is also possible that companies are doing unique downloads on specific machines. (That's not what I'd do.)

The question now, of course, is can Sun keep this pace of Solaris 10 shipments up? Maybe so. Maybe not. If there are quarterly updates to the software, this will continue to drive cumulative updates, just as it did for the Solaris 10 beta program. A lot also depends on how big the installed base of Solaris 10 servers gets. Cumulative Solaris 10 shipments could tail off once the installed base of servers actually using Solaris settles down, even though it is big enough to churn a lot of licenses with each quarterly update. So, in my chart, I think that estimated Solaris 10 Shipments B is a lot more likely than estimated Solaris 10 Shipments A. The Solaris 10 installed base has got to be north of 500,000 servers right now, and I think that 800,000 is probably a closer number. Given the limited support for Solaris 10--some 300 different X86 machines and several generations of Sparc servers have been certified--it is hard to imagine this installed base continuing to double and thereby driving cumulative Solaris 10 downloads.

But stranger things have happened, and no matter what, Sun is way ahead of its own and the industry's expectations with Solaris 10.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
Contact the Editors: To contact anyone on the IT Jungle Team
Go to our contacts page and send us a message.


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