If you thought that Microsoft and Sun Microsystems were already in bed together when it comes to supporting Windows on Sun's 'Galaxy' line of Opteron and Xeon servers, it turns out that the two former rivals were actually just making up after a protracted fight and had only progressed to fooling around on the couch. Yesterday, with the announcement that Sun is a full OEM partner for Windows, Sun and Microsoft have consummated their partnership fully.
Back in April 2004, when Microsoft and Sun buried the hatchet, settled the $1 billion Java lawsuit that Sun launched earlier against Microsoft, and Sun started to certify Windows on its Opteron-based servers. But with yesterday's announcement, Sun is now a certified Windows OEM partner, which means that it can pre-install, sell, and support (it also means revenue) Windows Server 2003 on its Galaxy servers.
In addition, Sun and its channel partners can coordinate with Microsoft's vast partner network to sell other Windows-based software from Microsoft and other Windows application developers. According to Andy Lees, corporate vice president of Server and Tools marketing at Microsoft, it is not unusual for big hardware OEM partners to only bundle Windows on their boxes and then let channel partners handle the rest.
The surprise is not that Sun has become a Windows OEM partner, but rather that it took so long. With Windows now accounting for around 70% of server shipments at this point, the fact that Sun is not able to pre-install and support Windows on the Galaxy machines means it is at a disadvantage compared to Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM, and others that have been OEMs for the server variants of Windows for many years.
The timing seems to have to do with imminent Galaxy server upgrade announcements as much as the fact that Sun's growth in the X64 server market has stalled in recent quarters, even though it is still growing a lot faster than the server market at large. It also has to do with the practicalities of the modern data centre.
"Well, 100% of Sun's customers use both Solaris and Windows," explained John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's Systems group in a conference call with Less, "and with the collaboration around virtualisation, we have the opportunity to extend leadership in this critical area."
What Fowler was referring to is that the two companies are going to work together to ensure that Windows can work on X64 servers that make use of virtualization hypervisors supported by Sun - which pretty much means VMware's ESX Server right now, but will at some point in the future mean the Xen hypervisor that is being integrated into a future release of Solaris, code-named 'Nevada' that will probably be called Solaris 11.
The two companies are also working together to ensure that virtualised instances of Solaris 10 for X64 servers can run atop the future 'Viridian' hypervisor that will be embedded inside Windows Server 2008. Fowler could not confirm that Sun would be supporting Microsoft's virtual hard disk (VHD) format or storing virtual machine instances, but said that Sun was evaluating the possibilities. Presumably, Sun will also be an OEM reseller for Windows Server 2008, but this contract is only for Windows Server 2003, according to Fowler.
The expanded collaboration between Microsoft and Sun also includes work on IPTV projects. As it turns out, the hardware deal that Sun inked two months ago for AT&T's U-verse IPTV service will be plunking Windows software atop Sun hardware. AT&T; is deploying Sun's eight-socket X4600 Galaxy servers and its 'Thumper' X4500 storage servers as the backbone for the U-verse setup; Microsoft will be providing Windows and related Mediaroom IPTV software.
So Sun and Microsoft will work together to ensure that Windows supports Sun's current and future storage products, such as Thumper.
The two companies will also staff an interoperability lab on the Microsoft campus to support the new agreement. As part of the April 2004 agreement, the two companies had already dedicated engineering resources to get Java to play nicely with Windows and collaborate on file formats for documents, among other things.
With this agreement, the collaboration is extended to include work on databases, e-mail and messaging, virtualisation, remote PC access through the Remote Desktop Protocol on Sun's thin clients, and benchmarking and testing of Windows on Sun servers.