Sun targets Novell installed base with Solaris Server for Intranets

Sun discloses what will be in this first of four Solaris modules, and hints at what will be in its upcoming "Power Desktop"

By Robert McMillan

July  1997
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San Francisco (July 21, 1997) -- Eight months after a strategic alliance that saw Sun license Novell Directory Services (NDS) for Solaris, Sun now says it's going after the Orem, UT software maker's installed base.

Solaris for Intranets, the first of Sun's new modular add-ons to its operating system, will feature an e-mail server and SKIP encryption software, as well as file and print services for a variety of network clients.

The other three Solaris modules (Power Desktop, Enterprise, and Internet Services) are expected to be announced before the end of 1997. Sun hasn't said much about what components will be in the Enterprise and Internet Services modules, but it now claims that the Power Desktop module will include Wabi, Solaris OpenGL, and something called the Solaris Internet Access PlusPack, which is supposed to "provide you the tools to access corporate intranets and the Internet," according to Sun's Web site.

Solaris, Windows, NT, NetWare, Macintosh, and OS/2 clients will all be able to run off a Solaris for Intranets server without any client-side tweaking because of a technology called SunLink -- which puts a variety of PC network protocols, like IPX and AppleTalk, natively in Solaris. SunLink is based on the Syntax TotalNET Advanced Server (TAS) that Sun has been shipping with its Netra NFS 150 1.1 servers. According to Solaris general manager, Steve MacKay, with SunLink "you can basically pull out a Novell NetWare server and put in a Solaris for Intranets server."

Previously SunSoft had been OEMing Syntax's software in the form of its Solstice NW Server and LM Server products, which provided NetWare and Microsoft LAN Manager clients with file and print services on Solaris. These products will be end-of-lifed with the genesis of Solaris for Intranets.

Syntax president Roger Franklin says that "about 40 percent of our business comes from networks that have been using a PC-based NFS solution." In fact, Solaris for Intranets looks like a good replacement for Sun's own PC-NFSpro software in some environments. With SunLink's NFS integration on the server-side, administrators won't have to update anything when they change the client OS (say from Windows 3.1 to Win 95), as they do with the PC-NFS products.

SunLink compares favorably with Samba's file and print software suite, according to beta tester Jay Jensen, a consultant with Computing Solutions, Inc. "It gives you the functionality of Samba," he says, "but the administration is a lot easier; plus it seems to be more flexible in the way you configure the file system."

As well as SunLink, Solaris for Intranets will ship with the Sun Internet Mail Server, Solstice AdminSuite, DiskSuite, Backup, PPP, and AutoClient. Jensen says his beta copy also had hooks to AdminSuite that let him run processes before and after modifying network users. "If you've got some other databases you want to synchronize with NIS+," he says, "this would make it pretty easy."


NT killer?
On paper, Solaris for Intranets looks like it could be an NT killer. At $700 for a five-user license, Sun says it's cheaper than NT. Standish Group vice president, Ed Schaider, says this price difference becomes significant in networks of 100 users or more: He compares a 100-user NT installation costing over $13,000 to a Solaris configuration priced at $2,585.

Schaider says he was impressed by his first look at the product. "Sun invited us to look at this," he says, "and I was prepared for what we frequently see when a vendor asks us to look at things, which is a series of disjointed features masquerading as products." Instead, says Schaider, he saw a product.

The ability to pull applications off the network, alter them, and then reinstall them onto the network without having to reboot will appeal to network administrators, according to Schaider. He adds that the remote administration features that Sun is starting to deliver with WebStart make the package attractive when compared to NT.

But theory and practice are two different things. And Sun will have to overcome a few hurdles before NetWare departmental servers are being junked by the cart-load for Solaris. Other than the obvious market perception that Unix is harder to use than NT, there is also the fact that Solaris still does not have a consistent graphical user interface for its administrative features. MacKay realizes that Unix is often considered a dirty word for departmental administrators. "They're going to be scared if they come against things that look like or smell like Unix," he notes.

Perhaps even more significant, there is Solaris's own troubled history on the Intel platform. Computing Solutions' Jensen points out that with the intranet module requiring one gigabyte of disk space and 32 megabytes of memory, it is unlikely that administrators will rip out their old NetWare software to run Solaris on out-of-date hardware. He predicts, "If the systems are new enough that they're capable of running it [Solaris], they're probably new enough that they wouldn't want to rip it out." Until Sun gets "Intel systems preconfigured with Solaris," he says, "they're probably not going to get as many [sales] as they'd like to."

Some work is also required on the directory side: Solaris for Intranets will support bindaries via SunLink but will not have support for NDS when it ships this August. Sun says it will announce a LDAP-based directory product next week called Sun Directory Services, but it is not yet clear what impact this product will have on its plans for NDS support.

Solaris for Intranets will be available this August for SPARC and Intel. It will cost $1,300 and will be available as an upgrade to 2.5.1 users for $600. Pricing for a subscription to the product is not available.


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