Sun, IBM Face Off at LinuxWorld Expo

Linux used to be about the little guy, independent developers working to perfect the grassroots operating system. But the loudest voices at this week’s LinuxWorld Expo are the giants of enterprise computing, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Both companies are using the trade show held in San Francisco as an opportunity to demonstrate how their Linux strategies will derail the competition. Sun is positioning its Linux products against Red Hat Linux, Inc. and Dell Computer Corp. in the Intel server market, and suggesting it offers a better strategy than the enterprise offerings from IBM and HP. For its part, IBM aims its new offerings squarely at Sun.

Monday, Sun announced a new Intel-based Linux server, the LX50, and software enhancements for its own Linux distribution. Sun positions its server line and Linux distribution as a complement to its line of Unix servers and SunONE infrastructure software, giving customers a low-cost offering compatible with its other products.

In its base configuration, the LX50 sports a 1.4GHz Pentium III processor, 512MB memory, and a 36GB SCSI drive, priced at $2,795. A two-way model was also announced, checking in at $4,295.

The LX50’s greatest value, however, may lie in the bundled software. Sun includes both an Intel version of its Solaris 9 operating environment and its version of Linux with value-added software that enables the server to integrate easily with a Sun environment.

Like Solaris 9, Sun’s Linux distribution includes base versions of SunONE components, including the SunONE application server, the SunONE portal server (an enhanced Web server), SunONE Messaging Server, and SunONE Directory server. These components can link a Linux server to Solaris servers running on the back end or application layer of an n-tier infrastructure. The Linux distribution also includes optimized versions of open source software such as the MySQL database and the Apache Web server.

Neil Knox, Sun’s vice president of volume server products, says the bundling of Solaris and the Sun Linux distribution offers a better value than offerings from Dell and other value server vendors since Sun does not charge for the intellectual property. “It’s like getting two for the price of none,” he said at the product announcement. He also noted that Sun and Dell use the same suppliers, so the hardware is essentially the same.

Jeff Benck, director of xSeries at IBM, told Enterprise Systems he wasn’t terribly impressed with the Sun LX50. ”It looks like they announced last year’s system,” he said.

For its part, IBM also announced a new Intel-based server designed to compete with Sun and others Linux offerings. The x335 is a two-way Xeon machine 1U high and 17 inches deep. In addition to having more powerful processors, it has faster I/O systems, including Ultra320 SCSI and PCI-X slots.

IBM also unveiled a high-performance Linux cluster offering, the eServer Cluster 1350, designed primarily for technical computing applications and Grid infrastructures.

IBM’s services division, which most observers consider the company’s greatest market strength, unveiled a new service offering designed to help enterprises move from Solaris to Linux. IBM said it had a number of sites worldwide with personnel trained to meet the needs of Solaris users with IBM Intel servers running Linux.

Sun’s Linux and Solaris-on-Intel push Monday is a bit of an about face for the company. Although it has offered Intel Linux servers since it acquired Cobalt Networks in 2000, 32-bit Intel platforms were not of strategic importance at Sun. Sun has had shaky support for the Intel version of Solaris and has maligned Linux in the past, prompting an admission from Sun CEO Scott McNealy Monday. “I was wrong,” he said. “We kind of gave up on the 32-bit market a dozen years ago.”


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