Longtime rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems have signed an agreement related to operating systems technologies with IBM extending its support for Solaris to cover more of its x86 servers and blades, the two vendors announced Thursday.
Under the agreement, IBM will distribute Solaris OS and Solaris Subscriptions for some of its System x servers and BladeCenter blade servers. The servers include BladeCenter HS21 and LS41 servers as well as IBM System x3650, System x3755, and System x3850 servers.
IBM already supported Sun's flavor of Unix on some of its BladeCenter servers.
The move is part of IBM's strategy to offer users a range of operating systems and Sun's desire to have Solaris run on a wider set of hardware. IBM has its own AIX flavor of Unix and also supports Microsoft's Windows operating system and several distributions of the open-source Linux operating system.
Sun has been trying to promote Solaris as an open alternative to Linux, whose popularity severely cut into Sun's bottom line in the early part of this decade. But Sun has so far failed to rally much support from rival server vendors like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or Dell.
It's a big step for IBM, since the company has historically been a major proponent of Linux.
The company, however, also sells the Windows OS on its Intel systems.
Jonathan Schwartz, president and CEO of Sun, described the new partnership as a "tectonic shift" in the marketplace.
IBM and Sun have long been strong and aggressive competitors in terms of both the server and Unix operating systems markets. Both Schwartz and Bill Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's systems and technology group, were keen to emphasize that the tie-up shouldn't be seen as either party giving up on their respective products.
"I don't see a single operating system as being the choice," Zeitler said. "Customers and markets make choices. Mature vendors react by responding to those requirements." While IBM continues to invest in AIX and sees it as an "excellent, highly scalable, and reliable offering," the vendor is also a pragmatist, he added. "A lot of customers love Solaris and are loyal to it."
Under the terms of the formal agreement between the two companies, IBM becomes a distributor and reseller of Solaris, the only leading hardware vendor other than Sun to have that capability. While IBM will distribute Solaris, Sun will provide support for the operating system.
"I can tell you our deal with HP is arms-length," Schwartz said of an existing relationship with HP around Solaris running on HP's ProLiant servers. "They're not an OEM. Our relationship with IBM is really the strongest with any partner in the marketplace and will hopefully set the tone for other relationships. IBM stands alone," he added. Schwartz wouldn't be drawn on whether Sun is in talks with Dell about having Dell servers support Solaris.