Sun Microsystems' focus on releasing software products such as Java and its Solaris operating system as open-source technologies leads to a question that Jonathan Schwartz, the company's president and CEO, asks rhetorically: "How do we make money on this?"
One of the answers, Schwartz hopes, was positioned next to him during a recent press conference where Sun announced a line of blade servers that gives users a choice of microprocessors from Intel and AMD, as well as Sun's own UltraSparc T1 chip.
To answer his own question, Schwartz said he thinks that Sun's open-source strategy will broaden the adoption of its software products. That, in turn, will lead more customers to the company for hardware and support, he predicted.
For instance, Schwartz confirmed that the upcoming Leopard version of Apple's Mac OS X operating system will use Sun's open-source ZFS file system instead of Apple's own HFS+ technology. ZFS, which is formally known as the Zettabyte File System, is currently used in Solaris as well as other operating systems.
Schwartz also pointed to the 90 million or so downloads of OpenOffice, the open-source desktop applications suite that is based on Sun's StarOffice software.
In particular, OpenOffice is seeing strong adoption in overseas markets, Schwartz said. He contended that as students leave college and enter the workforce with OpenOffice experience, they will influence the adoption of the open-source applications as well as open document formats in corporate environments.
That ultimately would benefit Sun, Schwartz said, by creating a market for its open-source technologies, which the company could then monetise via sales and support of "high-scale" hardware.
Although Sun already sells blade servers, Schwartz and other company officials think the new product line gives it a viable alternative to rack-mount systems by incorporating features such as support for the PCI Express interface format for expansion cards. The Sun Blade 6000s also add support for Intel's quad-core Xeon 5300 series processors, making them the first Xeon-based systems to be introduced by Sun since it announced an alliance with Intel in January.
Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, said using PCI Express as an off-the-shelf adapter interface instead of relying on custom technology "could make Sun blades pretty attractive from a price/performance perspective." King added that he thinks Sun could take out additional development costs if it joined Blade.org, a collaborative community that was spearheaded by IBM and is aimed at helping third-party vendors develop blade technologies.
The blade server market is still fairly young, and Blade.org may be ahead of its time, King acknowledged. Nonetheless, he said, "I think it behoves vendors to deliver their own innovations to the market and strip out some of the cost and liabilities as well."
Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group, said the Sun Blade 6000 was the first deliverable product to come out of the alliance between his company and Sun. He added that the two vendors are planning other systems as part of the alliance, which overturned a two-year-old strategy under which Sun had relied solely on AMD for x86 devices.