I have received a number of inquiries on the future of SPARC and Solaris. Sun’s installed base was already getting somewhat nervous as Sun continued to self-destruct with a series of bad calls by management, marginal financial performance, and the cancellation  of its much-touted “Rock” CPU architecture. Coming on top of this long series of negative events, the acquisition by Oracle had much the same effect as throwing a cat into the middle of the Westminster dog show, and Oracle’s public responses were vague enough that they apparently increased rather than decreased customer angst (to be fair, Oracle does not agree with this assessment of customer reaction, and has provided a public list of customers who endorsed the acquisition at http://www.oracle.com/us/sun/030019.htm).

Fast forward to last week at Oracle’s first analyst meeting focused on integrated systems. While much of the content was focused on integrating the software stack and discussions of the new organization, there were some significant nuggets for existing and prospective Solaris and SPARC customers:

  • Oracle is committed to continued development and support of Solaris. While the final decision on whether and how to support Solaris on non-Oracle platforms is still TBD, our suspicion is that the potential size of the non-Oracle installed base and potential future installations will tip them to support non-Oracle systems (primarily HP, IBM and Dell x86 systems). The potential synergy between Oracle software and Solaris is obvious, and any changes that they make to optimize Oracle will probably benefit other large applications as well.
  • Oracle presented a convincing roadmap for future SPARC products oriented around a common set of cores with products differentiated by number of cores, pipelines per core and cache architecture. The core designs seemed to emphasize “mainstream” CPU technology rather than some of the esoteric concepts attempted with Rock, and our confidence that they can execute is high. The net result is a roadmap that seems to offer the prospect of, if not leap-fogging Intel and AMD, of at least staying competitive with them on a performance basis.
  • Along with the CPU roadmap was an outline of a systems strategy that appears to offer SPARC/Solaris customers a high likelihood of staying competitive on system performance and design.

Our net take is that while it may still be hard to convince a new customer to jump on board the SPARC bandwagon, existing customers have no reason to make an abrupt migration, and can wait and see if Oracle delivers on the milestones that they will reveal over the remainder of 2010 and into 2011.  As these milestones are disclosed we will have further analysis.

On a related topic which we will address in more depth in future posts, Solaris on x86 will remain a solid enterprise choice for both current and new users. Customer issues with Sun were centered around SPARC and the strategic future of the company as opposed to technical issues with Solaris functionality, performance or stability. The continued availability of this proven operating environment, with an anticipation of continued investment and improvement by Oracle, is a strong positive for any customer looking for an enterprise-class Unix environment on an x86 platform.

However, this is my take on things. What's important are your plans and intentions. If you are a SPARC or Solaris user, let us know what your plans are for future deployment.

8/18/10 UPDATE – Oracle has recently released a webcast by John Fowler with public information on future systems plans,