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3 min read

Moving UNIX Units

As you may know, there are lots of folks in our division that think about Unix. Whether that’s Unix interoperability, Unix migration or the Unix roadmap of the system providers. While we rarely discuss Unix  in this forum, there were a few items that hit the inbox at once today that happened to catch my eye.

First, InformationWeek published a noteworthy feature and sidebar titled, “What’s left of Unix?” I recommend reading it. Here’s an excerpt:

The past few years haven’t been kind to Unix. Two longtime commercial backers, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, have diverted resources and energy into promoting Linux at the expense of their Unix offerings. Sun Microsystems’ Solaris wasn’t selling so well, so it embarked on an open-source strategy to give it away. SCO Group, which owns the venerable Unix System V code base, is distracted by intellectual-property lawsuits against IBM and other Linux backers. John Loiacono, Sun’s senior VP of software, recently referred to HP-UX and IBM’s AIX as “the dead Unixes.” Competitive bluster to be sure, but Loiacono may not be far off in that assessment.

In the ’90s, Unix was set to become the dominant operating system for heavy-duty computing, with Windows the only threat. But the rise of Linux and steady maturation of Windows have darkened Unix’s future. Spending for Unix licenses and maintenance was just over $2 billion in 2004, down $51 million from the year before, according to IDC, which predicts the market will be stagnant over the next few years.

Unix’s future hinges partly on future development and support and partly on how long vendors can make money at it. “Unix will clearly survive as a legacy operating system, as there is an enormous investment in Unix hardware that won’t go away any time soon,” says Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst with Enterprise Applications Consulting. “But I don’t know of anyone whose initial software development plans specify Unix. That’s a very 20th century idea.”

Nearly at the same time, CNET published this Q&A with Sun’s John Fowler, who leads Sun’s charges to sell servers on the x86 platform. Perhaps influenced by my recent business trip to Austin, but I was interested to read Fowler’s answers to questions about their high-end x86 server strategy and the OS sales mix on x86 servers.  Thanks to the reporter for asking the same question a few different ways, Fowler eventually shared some insights on those topics.

But I suspect Fowler was being cautious because the actual interview probably took place during Sun’s quiet period (prior to 4p.m. ET on Jan. 24). Once the Q2 results were revealed, we learned that Sun shipped about 20,000 x64 servers (this includes 32-bit x86 and 64-bit x86 servers) in the period Oct-Dec 2005, which was about 25% of Sun’s total server unit shipments for the quarter. Based on the IR charts, it appears that’s the high water mark for Fowler’s group.

It’s with this backdrop that Windows Server 2003 R2 hits the streets. One of the many cool technologies in R2 is the Unix/Windows interop capabilities, such as authenticating users across platforms and file sharing across multiple OSes.  The server for NFS is used when a Unix network requires access to shared files and folders on a Windows Server. Unix already has the NFS protocol installed, and so this minimizes the admin effort. The client for NFS component is used when a Windows computer needs access to shared files and folders on a Unix computer.

Windows Server R2 also provides cross-platform management capabilities so that you can remotely monitor and admin Windows-based systems in the same fashion and same tools as Unix-based systems. This includes RFC-2307/Kerberos Authentication Support, the ability to pull NIS schema into Active Directory and support for bi-directional password synch and user-name mapping. And along with the subsystem for Unix-based application, we provide an SDK containing over 350 tools and utilities that behave exactly as they would on any other Unix system. Some of these include shells, graphics tools, job control utilities, development tools, connectivity, batch processing, file and text processing.

So it appears the enterprise trends and market forces are aligning with our technology so that Windows-based servers are more than a legit migration platform for apps running on Unix. I’m looking forward to following this story as the year unfolds.