It wasn't long ago that the Unix-based Solaris operating system (OS) was being pronounced dead in the water.
Critics argued it had no new deployments and had been largely abandoned by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) other than its owner Sun Microsystems, itself judged to be a company in financial difficulties.
Just a few years later and despite further evidence indicating that all variants of Unix are being continually squeezed in the OS market by Linux and Windows alternatives, there is at least a spark (pun intended) of hope for Solaris.
New owner Oracle has finally shipped its first major update to the OS in six years (Solaris 10 was launched in 2005).
Oracle, which brought Sun for $7.4bn in April 2009, is certainly not short of cash, and offers the sort of market clout that OEM server manufacturers find hard to ignore: like other vendors with Unix OS offerings before it, including HP and IBM, Oracle will port its enterprise applications to the x86 version of Solaris in a bid to keep existing Solaris users on board, and tempt new users to the platform.
Just where that leaves the Sparc version of Solaris is anybody's guess, despite the fact that, according to estimates from research firm IDC, that in 2010 there were 220,000 Risc- (ie Sparc-) based servers running Solaris in Western Europe alone in 2010, compared to 35,000 x86 systems.
"It [Solaris] has the biggest Unix install base in Europe, with 50 per cent of all entry-level Unix servers even though x86 is and Linux is much cheaper to support," said Nathaniel Martinez, program director for IDC's European Systems Infrastructure Solutions Group.
"The move to x86 is based more on standards and open systems, but mainframes are closed boxes that offer performance and a lot more margin [for vendors] so I would imagine that IBM and HP will continue to support Solaris."
Oracle's executive vice president of systems, John Fowler, added that Solaris has more deployments than HP-UX (HP's Unix OS) and IBM's AIX combined, though that claim is hard to verify.
Research firm Gartner estimated that Oracle, with its various Solaris and Linux OS's, held 2.6 per cent of the overall OS market in 2010 (including desktop versions), bringing in about $780m through licensing and support sales, but behind both HP (3.7 per cent, $1.1bn) and IBM (7.5 per cent, $2.2bn).
"Unix generally experienced modest or negative growth," wrote Alan Dayley, Gartner managing vice president in a research note earlier this year, noting that Linux was the fastest growing server OS in the entire market.
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