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Sun and HP: So Happy Together?

How different would the IT world look if Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) joined forces in the operating system arena? Sun CEO Scott McNealy has already imagined such a scenario.

The executive is urging its bitter rival to unite its HP-Unix operating system with Sun’s Solaris Unix operating system. McNealy posted a memo dated March 1 to HP CEO Mark Hurd apparently attempting to convince him to merge the two platforms.

McNealy, who is characterized by his provocative public comments about competitors, bases his argument to Hurd on the allegation that HP has abandoned its Unix customers and developers.

McNealy’s Vision

“We’ve both delivered terrific products over the years. But HP has also made strategic decisions that compel its customers, developers and partners to change: ending development of your enterprise servers based on PA-RISC, and relegating your operating system, HP-UX, to Itanium,” McNealy wrote Hurd.

McNealy’s two cents? HP should commit to merge HP-UX with Solaris 10 Unix, which runs on servers with Intel’s Xeon and AMD’s Opteron processors.

“By combining our resources and investments, HP’s customer and developer communities would gain the benefit of the fastest growing operating system in the marketplace: improved economics, rapid innovation, and a rich future roadmap otherwise unavailable to your Proliant user base, given that HP-UX doesn’t run on Proliant,” McNealy wrote.

The Real Deal

HP and Sun have been battling in the server market for years. HP has maintained its number one position worldwide in terms of unit shipments, while Sun experienced a 10.9 percent year-over-year revenue decline in the fourth quarter of 2005, according to IDC.

HP did not return calls seeking comment. What’s really going on here?

“Sun wants to promote its advantage: Solaris runs on x86. Sun wants to emphasize the fact that HP-UX does not,” Sarang Ghatpande, vice president and senior analyst, Ideas International, told LinuxInsider. “The question is which operating system will go on Itanium now. HP’s Proliant is doing very well with Windows and Linux.”

The Linux Play

HP has made available 64-bit Solaris 10 on its Proliant servers to meet a need that HP-UX 11i can’t provide because it’s not available on industry standard servers, McNealy noted. HP should move its Unix servers to Solaris rather than force an “expensive and risky transition with an uncertainfuture,” he wrote.

There are fundamental differences in the way HP and Sun approach competitive platforms. As Ghatpande noted, HP has supported Linux and Windows for industry-standard servers and committed its support of HP-UX for Intel’s high-end 64-bit Itanium architecture. Sun, however, has not beenLinux-friendly because the open-source platform competes with Unix.

Sun dug its heals in on the anti-Linux stance last year when it announced plans to open Solaris’ source code under its own license. McNealy isn’t making this a Linux issue, though. He’s making it a Unix issue.

Integration Not Likely

Ghatpande, for one, does not see a high probability of Sun and HP burying the hatchet and merging their respective Unix operating systems.

“Even if the companies decide to do this, it’s not trivial. It’s a multiyear process and the success is unknown at best,” Ghatpande opined. “HP already learned its lesson when it tried to incorporate features from the operating system it acquired through Compaq. That was a multiyear process with a lotof investment and a lot of commitment that didn’t pay off.”

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