Sun must acquire Red Hat or Novell - analyst

If it knows what's good for it

Stubborn Sun just isn't buying into the Linux rage

Some of you will remember that Sun actually tried to have its own Linux distribution a couple of years back. That weird exercise ended before it even started. Sun decided to stick with the partner approach where Linux was concerned.

Sun backed away from its Linux distribution just as the company decided to put as many resources as possible behind Solaris x86. Sun has long adopted a "why be like everyone else, when you can be different" approach and its x86 operating system strategy falls in line with this tactic.

As Merrill Lynch points out, Sun believes that its upcoming class of Opteron servers will be far superior to any kit from the likes of HP, Dell or IBM.

"We believe that Sun may publish benchmarks that show its servers (both pizza boxes and blades) running a commodity microprocessor and OS at 2-3X the speed of current x86 systems thanks to the non-commodity architecture built around the parts," the analyst firm wrote in the report. "Running Solaris rather than Red Hat would probably provide an additional performance boost. Sun's value added would be in the design of the board, the I/O, and raw performance. If 3X performance is achieved, then a data center could save significantly on A/C, electricity, and real estate."

These performance projections may sound nuts, but Sun really believes that its new Opteron gear along with its Thumper project will give it a big competitive advantage. If the performance is all Sun claims, customers may well pick Solaris x86 over Linux. And, as has been discussed before, Solaris sales are worth much more than Linux sales to Sun.

Beyond the systems, it's clear that Sun thinks Linux and the big name hardware vendors backing it are vulnerable at this moment. A lot of the Linux fanfare has died down now that it's not really seen as the OS underdog anymore. SCO's lawsuits, while questionable, have also contributed to doubts around the OS.

Merrill Lynch ignores how messy Sun's purchase of a Linux vendor could be. We doubt that open source zealots would warm to the idea of Sun controlling the dominate version of Linux as quickly as the analyst firm suggests. We doubt that IBM, HP or Dell would let such an acquisition happen in the first place.

Merrill Lynch's myopic focus on what Red Hat might mean to Sun is also totally absurd. The entire IT community would be shaken by such a buy. Sun would pay a premium for something it doesn't really need. It can ship Linux on servers just as easily as Dell can.

Backing Linux in a major, major way would make Sun look like every other vendor, and this is not a role Sun is well suited to handle. At times, it seems that Sun exists for no other reason that to be different from the herd and offer customers a choice.

For Sun to "be perceived" as "hot" again, it will need the Solaris x86 bet to pay off. This won't require a "radical move" as Merrill Lynch demands but rather better hardware than any other vendor. As is often the case, Merrill Lynch portrays IT customers as a mindless mob. They go where the pretty lights tell them to go. This theory never panned out with Intel's Itanium processor, despite Merrill Lynch's myriad notes calling the chip an "industry standard."

Sun has got to out-invent, not out-acquire its rivals to be "hot" again. Customers will pay more attention to a screaming fast, cheap Opteron box that can run either Solaris x86 or Red Hat than they will to Sun buying an expensive open source software unit in Raleigh, North Carolina. ®

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