Solaris and Dell

Jonathan recently announced a partnership with Dell on his blog.

First, we announced a key relationship with Dell, through which they’ll be OEM’ing Solaris, and directly supporting customers running Solaris on Dell systems. Second, we announced our free/open source virtualization roadmap, starting with xVM and xVM OpsCenter, our hypervisor and management product set.

Truth be told, the relationship with Dell has been in the making for a while – I flew down to Texas last year to have dinner at his house (with a fortuitous 180 knot tail wind – sadly, I had return the same night with a 180 knot headwind). If you’re thinking, “hm, didn’t Sun’s relationship with Intel start with dinner, too?” you’re picking up on a theme – great partnerships start with a meal, in my book. At that dinner, we began discussing ways we could work together. Since then, we’ve both heard from a ton of customers that they’re running Solaris (and Sun Software, broadly) on Dell systems – and they’d like us to work together to make the experience a seamless one. It’s important to note, of the Solaris instances distributed into the world, roughly a third run on Dell – that’s certainly motiviation for us both to work together.

I was quite surprised to read that 1 out of 3 Solaris instances run on a Dell machine. Maybe that’s why Joyent just signed the deal that they did. On the surface, though, this seems like a somewhat odd partnership. While Sun may be trying to pickup some software services revenue, they are still a hardware company. It seems that Forbes picked up on this:

Nevertheless, the deal is a turnabout for the two companies. Sun and Dell have been clawing at each other for more than a decade. Last year, Sun grabbed back the No. 3 spot in the server market from Dell.

Yet the two companies still do less business, put together, than HP alone. In the second quarter of this year, IBM sold $4.1 billion worth of servers, while HP sold $3.7 billion, Sun sold $1.76 billion and Dell $1.5 billion.

Now, by buddying up, Dell and Sun are trying to wring sales out of customers who are going in different directions. If you’re putting Solaris on Dell machines, you’re either already a Sun customer–and you’re tiptoeing away from the Santa Clara, Calif.-based software and server vendor–or you’re a Dell customer fooling around with heavy-duty Unix, and chances are you’re looking to trade up to bigger servers than Dell now sells.

If you look at things on a longer timeline it makes a bit more sense. Sun is trying to move down into smaller markets and Dell is trying to move up into bigger ones. They are both fighting competitors that are significantly bigger. Whether the strategy works remains to be seen. I’m still not sure that the Sun corporate culture will allow them to play well in the commodity sandbox. They are used to be innovative and interesting. High volume low margin products that compete on price just doesn’t seem their style. One thing is clear, however. Sun is doing everything in their power to turn Solaris into a true competitor to Linux. That should be good for everyone.


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