Sun steals page from Microsoft's book

Sun Microsystems this week will take the covers off its long-hyped Project Orion and Project Mad Hatter at the SunNetwork conference in San Francisco.

To strengthen its position as a serious enterprise software player, the company is counting on a tightly integrated software set that leverages its Solaris OS at bargain-basement prices.

Ironically, this approach seems to take a page from Sun's nemesis, Microsoft Corp. "When you look at Orion, it's very analogous to what Microsoft has been saying over the years," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk.

The Sun ONE Application server comprises the heart of Orion. Additional Orion components include a directory server, identity server, portal server, calendar server, messaging servers, and Sun Cluster software.

Customers will have to wait, however, for more advanced offerings such as a high-availability application server, mobile access products, grid computing, and and peer-to-peer software, said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, senior director of Java and strategic software marketing at Sun. These products will join the estimated 100 components Sun expects to add to its enterprise software stack in the future.

Customers will also have to wait to hear Sun's application development story. According to Sun, the company will not be releasing its Java development tool, Project Rave, at the conference. When Sun first announced Rave at its JavaOne developer show this spring, the company had expected to ship the software in beta form this fall, a deadline it still expects to meet.

Sun will, however, disclose a per-user pricing model for its server software -- expected to run in the US$100-per-user range -- which will drive down software costs and simplify license management for enterprise users, according to Sun.

The aggressive pricing and software bundles for both servers and desktops are part of Sun's effort to regain the ground it lost in the app server space to companies such as BEA Systems Inc.

Sun's attempt to leverage its Solaris OS may ultimately pose the greatest threat to BEA's WebLogic application server, which predominantly runs on Solaris as well.

"You have an integrated package that is very low-cost, that you can swap components into," O'Grady said. "I think the one who is poised to be hurt by this is BEA."

Meanwhile, Project Orion marks the culmination of a year-long retooling of Sun's software development process, according to a Sun representative.

The strategy represents a much more focused attempt by the company to release its products in a coordinated fashion.

Sun has already begun closing project Orion deals and used the Orion package as an up-sell for an unnamed customer originally interested in just one component of the server stack. "In the end, we quoted $100,000 for unlimited use of all our software for all their people," Sun's Van Den Hoogen said.

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