Solaris 10 Breaks Through 6 Million Shipment Barrier
Published: November 2, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
When the Solaris 10 Unix variant created by Sun Microsystems was announced at the end of January 2005, Sun had shipped approximately 6.5 million Unix licenses in its entire 20-year history--including 500,000 copies of the beta of Solaris 10. This week, after less than two years of shipments, Sun broke through the 6 million registered licenses barrier with Solaris 10, and did so largely because Solaris 10 is a technically slick operating system that is distributed freely.
That 6 million barrier is significant, but it is also a bit hard to quantify in terms of the significance to Sun's top and bottom line over the short and long terms.
There's no question that it is a large number. If you ignore the Solaris 10 software distributed through the Solaris Express monthly beta program starting in October 2003 and ending when Solaris 10 went commercial, Sun has shipped about as many Solaris 10 licenses to users--most of whom are users, not customers who have shelled out cash--as it has with SunOS, Solaris 2.X, 7, 8, and 9. It used to be a big deal to ship several hundred thousand Unix licenses in a year, and Sun is averaging more than 3 million a year with Solaris 10. These are registered licenses that have been shipped on CDs or DVDs as well as downloaded from Sun's servers.
Sun, of course, wanted to brag a bit, as it always does, and it reminded everyone that over the same time period since January 2005, the Solaris 10 shipments were larger that shipments for Red Hat's Enterprise Linux, IBM's AIX, and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX shipments over the same period. You could throw in Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server onto the scale and Solaris 10 would still come out ahead.
But there are two things to remember about Sun's Solaris download numbers. Those Linux and Unix platforms mentioned above are paid licenses, and they generate money and profits for those companies. Moreover, no one pays for an operating system and then doesn't use it in production--or, at least, they don't do this very often and keep their jobs. And finally, Windows server distributions, which are paid for as well, utterly dominate the operating system market on servers. Microsoft gets several million licenses sold on new X86 and X64 servers each year, and sells millions more into the existing installed base as upgrades. And probably has many millions more on top of that generating maintenance and support revenues.
Having said all that, Sun knows all of this, and is just happy to have a positive Solaris story to tell after many years of woe and decline. Solaris 10 changed the conversation from when will Solaris and/or Sun die to what will Sun add to Solaris next, and what does support cost compared to Linux. The OpenSolaris project means that Solaris can live on without Sun, if need be. This has been reassuring to the IT shops and the individuals who like Solaris.
The success of Solaris 10 has also been reassuring to independent software developers, and has put the Unix variant on a much larger spread of machines. As of this week, over 2,900 applications have been certified on Solaris 10 on Sparc platforms, and over 1,800 applications have been certified on X86 and X64 platforms. While this is nowhere near the peak 12,000 applications that were said to be available on earlier Solaris releases during the dot-com boom, the numbers have gone steadily up, and even HP-UX and AIX have a hard time breaking through 4,000 certified applications on their respective Itanium and Power platforms. Sun is catching up in a game that it was woefully behind in.
And, moreover, Solaris 10 has been certified on 75 Sparc-based systems and 710 X86 and X64 systems--most of the latter of which do not have the Sun label. It is better to have Solaris on a non-Solaris box with the potential for support in the near-term and a system sale in the long term than to have nothing at all.
According to Tom Goguen, vice president of marketing for Sun's operating platforms group, Sun has surveyed a sample of the Solaris 10 registrants to get a feel for who they are and what they are doing. He says that the downloaders are primarily developers who are kicking the tires, and about two-thirds of them have installed the boxes on X86 and X64 gear. Most of them are not using Solaris 10 in production, but every time there is a new release or update, they come and get it again and there is a big spike in downloads.
The download rate is far above Sun's initial plans, and Goguen admits that he thought the initial estimates that some Sun people were saying for Solaris 10 downloads seemed crazy at the time it was launched nearly two years ago. But Sun understood then that what matters to the future of its business is the number of contacts it has within companies--with servers, with Solaris, with Java, with middleware, with the executives that play golf and make decisions--that will count as much as revenue. And in that regard, Solaris 10 has done more than anyone could have expected.
"Success on the X86 and X64 platform is key to Sun," says Goguen. "Volume counts in the operating system business."
Of course, what Sun really wants over the long haul is to convert this is a very large potential customer base of tire kickers to paying Solaris customers. The question now is how much sway the developers have in the IT procurement process.
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