Sun Wrestles with NT Source Code Issues

Officials at Sun Microsystems Inc. say access to the Windows NT Server 4.0 source code accounts for the functionality of one of its interoperability efforts, Project Cascade. But at the same time, they contend, their difficulty in obtaining Windows 2000 code should not concern customers.

Officials at Sun Microsystems Inc. say access to the Windows NT Server 4.0 source code accounts for the functionality of one of its interoperability efforts, Project Cascade. But at the same time, they contend, their difficulty in obtaining Windows 2000 code should not concern customers.

Project Cascade allows a server running the Sun Solaris flavor of the Unix operating system to act as a server for Windows machines. Sun positions the product, which it calls Solaris PC NetLink, as a means for companies to consolidate multiple Windows NT servers in a single box on the Solaris platform, which is widely viewed as more available, reliable and scalable than Windows NT. With PC NetLink, Solaris servers can natively provide Windows NT network services including file and print, directory and authentication.

"Users get familiar network services on a far more reliable platform," says John Shoemaker, Sun’s vice president for enterprise desktop server systems. Sun also touts its pricing strategy as an advantage. Sun doesn’t require companies to buy client licenses for the servers. Microsoft charges $40 a seat.

Sun officials discussed the source code issue this month during a news conference that covered numerous issues, including the announced April shipment date for PC NetLink; a May date for a SunPCi co-processor card that allows Sun Ultra workstation users to run Solaris and Windows NT from a single desktop; the extension of its storage capabilities for Windows NT down to several of its lower level StorEdge products; and new service offerings for integrating customers’ Solaris and Windows NT environments.

During the news conference analysts questioned Sun about where its customers would be left when Microsoft releases Windows 2000. Much of the PC NetLink functionality comes from having the source code to NT 4.0, which Sun licensed from AT&T Corp. Recently, Microsoft officials, including president Steve Ballmer and Windows 2000 vice president Brian Valentine, have discussed opening the Windows 2000 source code. But such a move is far from assured.

If the Windows 2000 code isn’t opened, Microsoft is unlikely to help arch-rival Sun by licensing Windows 2000 source code to the Unix vendor.

Mark Canepa, Sun’s vice president and general manager, workgroup servers, said Sun had a "multi-faceted approach" to Windows 2000.

One asset Sun has is time, according to Canepa. While Windows NT 4.0 has been out for several years, the version is only now being implemented at the core of the enterprise. "Customers are just in the process of deploying the Windows 4.0 infrastructure services," Canepa said. "Even when NT 5.0 or Windows 2000 starts to ship, the primary environment that product will find itself in is an application server." The backward compatibility Microsoft is building into the Windows 2000 operating system will add to Sun’s time to catch up, Canepa said.

Canepa also contends Windows 2000, despite its rumored 40 million lines of code, will be less daunting to integrate into the Solaris OS without the source code than Windows NT 4.0 was. With Windows 2000, Microsoft has been moving toward industry standards such as LDAP and Kerberos, Canepa said. "Those capabilities are already available on Solaris," he said. "The process of interoperating with Windows 2000 is far more straightforward."

All the while, Sun will be looking for a partner to license Windows 2000 code from, Canepa suggests. "In the NT 4.0 timeframe, we seem to be able to have done it without cooperation from Microsoft."

Among Sun’s other announcements was the SunPCi card, the second in Sun’s series of three interoperability cards. Sun already ships a version that puts Windows 95 in a Sun Ultra workstation. A version for Windows 98 is planned. The card effectively creates a virtual machine running the Windows operating system in a window on the Unix desktop. The card includes a dedicated 300 MHz AMD processor and 64 MB to 256 MB of memory.

Perhaps the largest revenue opportunity for Sun comes from getting several StorEdge products on Microsoft’s hardware compatibility list. Products passing Microsoft test suites include Sun’s StorEdge A1000, A3500 and A5000 disk arrays. The high-end Sun StorEdge A7000 disk array was already approved.

Sun’s new service offerings include server consolidation services to help customers move Windows NT servers into Solaris machines, support packages and training solutions.

Shoemaker says the products and services Sun discussed opened a $30 billion market to Sun, with about $20 billion of that coming from storage. Many market analysts predict storage on Windows NT will grow exponentially over the next few years.