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.


Linux Losing Market Share to Windows Server II

As a quick follow up to this post, it seems that Dell is not seeing the same trend. From the article:

Dell CEO: Linux server sales increasing

Claims made by Microsoft that Linux violates its software patent have not affected sales of Linux-based hardware, according to Dell’s CEO Michael Dell.

Speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Dell said his company has seen Linux uptake for servers increase faster than Windows server products, despite Microsoft’s claims.

He said: “On the server side Linux continues to grow nicely, a bit faster than Windows. We’re seeing a move to Linux in critical applications, and Linux migration has not slowed down.”

Just another data point to keep in mind, like I said this stat is particularly hard to track with any real accuracy. While on the topic of Dell and Linux, it looks like Ubuntu desktop sales are tracking as expected. From a recent interview:

Can you give me an idea of what embracing Linux/Ubuntu for the home desktop and laptop has done for Dell? What has changed, what has stayed the same?

Embracing Ubuntu Linux on our desktops and laptops seems to have really raised Dell’s visibility within the Linux community. We have been supporting, testing, developing for, and selling Linux for 8+ years here at Dell, but before the Ubuntu announcement, a lot of people didn’t know that we did any of that. The announcement certainly opened people’s eyes, and there seems to be much more awareness now that Dell is serious about supporting Linux.

What has not changed is our overarching philosophy and trying to make Linux “just work” on all of Dell’s systems. Through our work with Linux on our servers and workstations, our goal has always been to push all device driver support and bug fixes into the respective upstream projects and to our Linux vendors. Our goal is to have customers be able to choose their Linux distro of choice, install it on whatever Dell system they buy, and have the OS install and run flawlessly. While this is very hard to accomplish, we have had a lot of success over the years doing this, and was an easy model to extend into the other Dell product lines for Linux.

Previous to our Ubuntu product announcement, it was much more difficult to extend this model to consumer desktop and laptop technologies. We would have a conversations with vendors about pushing Linux support for their hardware, but without a Linux product offering from Dell for that hardware, it was very difficult to convince them to release Linux drivers. That has certainly changed now that we offer Ubuntu Linux, and we are making much more progress in our vendor discussions.

Another area that has changed is our thinking around OS support models. Traditionally for enterprise Linux customers, if we sell them an OS on their system, they expect and demand a high level of operating system support. That is certainly not the case for our Ubuntu Linux customers, who have stated very loudly that, for the most part, they do not want to pay for OS support, and would rather get support from the community. That is a much different support model from what we have traditionally used, but is certainly one that we have embraced.

The original sales estimates for Ubuntu computers was around 1% of the total sales, or about 20,000 systems annually. Have the expectations been met so far? Will Dell ever release sales figures for Ubuntu systems?

The program so far is meeting expectations. Customers are certainly showing their interest and buying systems preloaded with Ubuntu, but it certainly won’t overtake Microsoft Windows anytime soon. Dell has a policy not to release sales numbers, so I don’t expect us to make Ubuntu sales figures available publicly.

A couple interesting tidbits in there. It’s absolutely great to see Dell pushing for more native vendor Linux drivers. They ship the kind of number needed to get vendors to listen. Kudos.


Ubuntu on Two New Inspirons

In a move that would seem to back up initial indications that the Ubuntu Dell offerings were selling well, Dell has officially announced that it is adding two additional models to its Linux lineup:

From a Ubuntu perspective, we’re now offering Ubuntu 7.04 to customers in the United States on the Inspiron 1420N notebook and the Inspiron 530N desktop. Both are available for order now at Since these are new systems, it usually takes us a bit of time to ramp production. Because of that, we expect to ship these new systems by the middle of next month.

Additionally, Dell has confirmed that it plans to extend the Ubuntu roll-out to countries outside the United States (currently the number one request on IdeaStorm). Dell also indicated that they are considering bringing Linux to their small business customers. Great to see that the Ubuntu offering is being well received. This move could very well be paving the way to both additional large scale OEM Linux plans and someday even a simple “Linux on any model” type roll-out by someone. Kudos Dell.


In San Francisco for OSBC

Landed in San Francisco earlier today and spent most of the day walking around. The OSBC starts tomorrow morning. My recent post on Dell and Ubuntu seems to have gotten a fair bit of attention while I was traveling. If I get any further information I’ll be sure to sure it.


Dell announces the models for Ubuntu

I just got the following email forwarded to me by a Dell employee:

We will be launching a Linux based OS (Ubuntu) on the E520, 1505 and XPS 410 starting next Thursday, 5/24. We expect these systems to be less than 1% of our OS mix for the entire year which is ~20,000 systems annually. Please cover the huddle deck below with your team by EOB Sunday. If any questions come up, please let me know so I can address them before launch.

The goal of launching Linux is to continue to give our customers more choices to customize their new Dell. Providing more options to our Linux Enthusiast customer group will hopefully create even more Raving Fans!!

It was also noted that people within Dell can now officially start discussing the desktop Linux situation with customers. It’s great to see this initiative being followed through on so quickly. I was hoping for a bit more than three models, but what’s more important right now is how those three models are actually rolled out. The long term implications for Linux on the desktop in the mainstream here are huge. Kudos to Dell for finally making the leap. With less than 1% of sales at stake here though, it’s possible Dell doesn’t have the incentive to put a huge effort behind this. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the roll out and will certainly be posting more on the topic. I’d like to thank Rick, who forwarded this to me.