IBM already has its own version of the Unix operating system, called AIX, but Sun’s Solaris has larger market share and runs on a broader selection of hardware than AIX, which is aimed primarily at very big systems. But there’s an additional attraction to Solaris, one that is critical primarily for legal reasons.
For years, IBM has been dogged by a lawsuit from the tiny SCO Group of Lindon, UT. SCO holds certain rights to the UNIX operating system acquired from Novell and before that AT&T, and the company claims that IBM is responsible for allowing certain SCO UNIX code (and possibly AIX code) to be inserted in Linux, an open-source version of Unix that IBM has been involved in developing. While IBM has the upper hand in the SCO suit, which has been ongoing since 2003, it has become clear that some code commingling has taken place, which could hurt future copyright and intellectual-property claims over software developed for Linux and AIX. Sun’s Solaris, however, has taken an entirely separate development path and is free of any such taint. In other words, its DNA is clean. Given the years of SCO litigation, this has value for IBM.
Both Sun and IBM are major players in the Unix workstation market. If there are antitrust concerns about this merger they will probably center on the intersection of those hardware businesses.
IBM already owns the DB2 SQL database, while Sun paid $1.1 billion last year to buy MySQL, the most popular open-source SQL database around. Owning this would potentially give IBM new advantages at both ends of the market and help the company compete better against Oracle Corporation, its chief database rival.
Cloud computing, in which applications run in data centers on hundreds or thousands of servers, is an important new computing market. Cloud computing is dependent on virtualization–software that allows several operating systems to run at one time on servers used in the cloud. IBM has recently made several significant announcements about cloud computing and server virtualization. But announcements alone aren’t enough, according to sources inside IBM. Sun has virtualization and cloud-computing software that will allow IBM to deliver what it has promised.
No wonder IBM is so interested in Sun.