Sun's Orion: All The Wood Behind One Arrow?

The company's attempt at simplifying how the IT world gets its hands on Sun's software may be a radical way to fight Microsoft, but it is hardly new.
Posted February 26, 2003

Michael Singer

Sun Microsystems Wednesday detailed more of its new "software-train", which it says will beat Microsoft at its own game.

Dubbed "Project Orion," the Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm said it will base all of its software on its Solaris, Solaris for x86 and Linux platforms and offer a single distribution venue with three licensing models. The first wave of the project is expected to start this June.

The spectrum of software included in Project Orion will span Solaris and Linux at the core with a common Java runtime environment and combine Web services infrastructure technologies, such as application servers and portals; Microsoft-interoperable e-mail and communications; Liberty-enabled directory and identity; Grid engine, streaming media, storage management, availability monitoring technologies, and clustering.

Customers will initially be offered Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) products. The company Tuesday said its other platforms would be included at a later date.

"We've heard consistently that CIOs are tired of handling the integration role for the operating environment. They want us to engineer the complexity out, drive standards and interoperability, and get the costs down," said Sun executive vice president of Software Jonathan Schwartz.

The hope is that by giving IT managers a regular schedule, they would only have to make changes on a quarterly basis and not sporadically. Sun said it would help manage the standards and do system testing. Various groups within the company's sphere of influence would be responsible for unit testing.

"It's a progression," IDC research vice president Jean Bozman told "They are integrating more middleware into the software stack and synchronizing the releases. It's interesting because the company on February 10 said it would also make product announcements once a quarter. So we'll see if that plays into their Orion strategy."

But talk of putting Sun's products behind a single platform is hardly new. Schwartz's claim that Solaris is now the company's "crown jewel" harkens back to the days when Sun put all its eggs into the SPARC basket.

In 1989, CEO Scott McNealy decided Sun's manifest destiny was to move the company's entire product line to SPARC processors. At that time the company was shipping machines based on Intel, Motorola and SPARC (produced by Texas Instruments). At the time McNeally heralded the changes with the motto: "All the wood behind one arrow." The arrow in that case was SPARC.

Now Sun is taking a similar approach in Project Orion with Solaris by offering a single point of reference for software upgrades and billing.

The three-tier billing approach includes the traditional licensing model (paying by the CPU) and predictable licensing, which is a flat rate that is measured at the beginning of the year or in periodic increments.

Sun is also offering metered billing, which it says could be helpful for companies that have large fluctuations in staff. Schwartz said he was not wild about metering and confessed that the billing option still needed "technical and anthropological" improvements.

However, when compared to Microsoft's erratic software releases and billing procedures, Sun says their strategy might just work.

"I think the mega trend going on here is that there are fewer and fewer people in IT and they are being asked to do more," said Bozman. "Any software vendor that can simplify the process of tweaking and tuning systems will attract attention."

Schwartz said Sun's next objective will be to partner with OEMs to make sure Project Orion flies straight to its IT target.

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