Sun's Game: Friends Close, Microsoft Closer

Opinion: Has Sun never heard the old aphorism about using a long spoon to sup with the devil?

By Charlie Schluting | Posted Dec 26, 2007
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Charlie Schluting
Opinion: Sun Microsystems has been making great headway in the OSS community lately: nearly every piece of software it distributes is open source, everything is free, and OpenSolaris is really building a large community. Why, then, is Sun signing deals with Microsoft? After all, Microsoft is associated with values quite the opposite of open source.

As Jonathan Schwartz said in his blog entry, "Last week, we signed a deal with Microsoft. Remain calm." This is not a step backward, nor is it a lessening of Sun's open source commitment.

Sun is a company that "gets it." There is no business that can run wholly on Linux or Solaris, at least not yet. Whether the goal is to get rid of Microsoft products or not, one must contend with the fact that every business has a Windows presence. That, my friends, means interoperability and cooperation is required.

Sun's agreement with Microsoft does not interfere with its previous open source commitment. Providing a solution to a wider audience will likely lead to more open source (Solaris) adoption. The naysayers would have you believe that anyone who tries to cooperate with Microsoft does not care about "freedom." How absurd.

The agreement back in September brought forth three advantages for enterprise customers.

First, and most amazingly, Microsoft has agreed to support Project Virginia. Window products will be modified to run under Sun's new hypervisor, which is partially based on Xen. Sun's xVM, which is Project Virginia plus management tools, also leverages Sun's LDOM (Logical Domains; hardware virtualization) technology. Sun's goal is to provide rock-solid hardware, as it always has, which can be used to consolidate and manage all of the major operating systems: Windows, Linux, and Solaris. The Linux community, too, has much to gain from this agreement.

It is currently possible to run Windows on Xen (in Linux) if the server supports hardware virtualization assistance (AMD Pacifica, or Intel VT). Any movement Microsoft makes toward supporting and improving how their operating system operates in a virtualized environment will be beneficial to Linux as well. Project Virginia is based off Xen, and of course, it is open source. See the OpenSolaris Xen community and openxvm.org for more information.

Second, Sun has agreed to support Windows virtualization so Solaris can be run on Windows servers as well. Sun surely doesn't want many people doing this, but it's a tit-for-tat thing. Sun wants to sell more hardware, wants Solaris to dominate, and if that means letting Solaris run under the Windows virtualization environment, so be it. Perhaps, even though they won't be getting the real benefits of Solaris running on bare metal, more Windows Server customers will be enticed to give Solaris a whirl. Microsoft wants Windows shops to consolidate those "legacy" applications under Windows, but we know what's more likely to happen.

Last, Sun is going to start OEM'ing Windows for its customers. This means Sun will sell and support Windows. AMD and Intel-based Sun servers can now be purchased with: no operating system, Solaris 10, RHEL 5, SLES 10, or Window Server. And, if you pay for software support, they are all fully supported by Sun.  Sun has been certifying Windows to run on its hardware for some time now, so this isn't much of a surprise.

Sun wants to be the go-to vendor for everything. It makes extremely fast and reliable x86 hardware, which large Windows Server environments have already been leveraging. Part of Sun's x4600 marketing campaign included amazing statistics about Microsoft's SQL server performance; this cooperative effort was the next logical step forward.

Sun's new blade server, for example, shows Sun's commitment to being the one-vendor-to-rule-them-all. The blade server supports any mixture of SPARC, AMD, and Intel blades. Linux or Solaris, and now Windows, are fully supported by Sun. VMware or xVM can run on each blade, enabling both hardware and operating system consolidation for all customers. As Schwartz says, "We can serve 100% of the market."

Open source fans aside, the agreement between Sun and Microsoft was slightly surprising for a different reason. In 2004, Microsoft paid sun over $1 billion to settle their differences. Sun says the companies, "entered into a broad technology collaboration arrangement to enable their products to work better together and to settle all pending litigation between the two companies." What seemed to be marketing propaganda and a polite nod to their competitor has actually turned out to be true.

Microsoft doesn't seem to be a benefactor in this agreement on the surface. Windows running on Solaris: not beneficial to Microsoft. Sun to OEM Windows: probably won't affect Windows sales much at all. Windows able to run Solaris, virtualized: ah, here is the benefit. Microsoft is essentially saying that Sun isn't a serious enough threat to worry about people running Windows within Solaris xVM. They want to convince customers that their "legacy Unix applications" can simply run under Windows servers. Just as it's important for Sun to support all operating systems, Microsoft needs to be able to support Solaris within its virtualization technology. Sun, and its customers, need not worry.

Sun is increasingly moving toward a more cooperative competitive environment. Sun, before Schwartz, was extremely hostile toward its competitors. The two biggest sore spots, IBM and Microsoft, have been successfully turned into allies. Well, at least partners who compete. Sun is keeping its enemies, as well as its friends, close at hand.

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