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Sun 'Aggressive' on Open Source Solaris

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sun Microsystems said it will take an "aggressive" approach to opening up the source code of its core operating system. It just isn't saying when.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker fended off questions from reporters and analysts Tuesday during a briefing centered on the major developments for Solaris 10. The enterprise platform is scheduled for a September 2004 launch date to coincide with the shipment of Sun's next generation Java Enterprise System.

Earlier this month, top executives confirmed Sun's long-rumored intentions to release parts of Solaris to the open source community similar to the way that Linux, Apache and other open source projects are available. Ann Wettersten, Sun vice president of systems software marketing, said the movement is not only supported within the company but Sun customers are "very positive in opening up Solaris."

"The concerns and open source questions we hear from customers is along the same questions any company would get in opening up anything to the GPL [GNU General Public License],"Wettersten said. "We have to make sure we are doing the right thing for the community and the right thing for the customers."

Sun Senior staff engineer Bryan Cantrill mirrored Wettersten's comments saying, "technically, it is not a problem to do this."

"We're moving on an aggressive schedule, he said. "We're engineers and we've written the cleanest code and we can't wait to share it with the world."

What's The Holdup?

"On a practical level, Sun would have to figure out how they will open source it, under what organization and what licensing model," Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis, recently told internetnews.com.

"That would make a big difference if it is accepted as a true open source product. If Sun retains too much control, that would turn off some open source advocates and possible converts to Solaris. Sun would face a bigger challenge in figuring out how to price this, and price its other products so they can make a sustainable profit. It could be that support contracts will make this a minor issue, but it is also true that third parties could bundle an open source Solaris with cheap hardware and basically eat into Sun's business. Again, it depends on Sun's definition of open source [and open distribution]."

Sun has many options including a modified GNU General Public License like Linux or some other type of variant of the Public License process. But even if Sun is capable in resolving the issue of licenses, Stacey Quandt, principal analyst of Quandt Analytics, points out there are still issues against success, such as customers choosing to stay the course with Solaris rather than migrate to Linux.

"First, this comes three years too late due to the significant adoption of Linux," Quandt told internetnews.com.

"Linux on Intel is a volume market, while the contributions [to] the Linux 2.6 kernel make Linux a 64-bit alternative to Unix. Many customers in financial services migrated away from Sun because of the cost of underutilized Solaris/SPARC systems.

"Even more important is the inability of Sun to adequately address the issue of freedom of lock-in from a single vendor. Most Linux customers appreciate the ability to choose from multiple Linux distributions and take back control from lock-in to a single IT vendor. A further issue is how will Sun work with customers to integrate patches and changes back to the Solaris kernel. If customers make changes to the Solaris kernel will they end up having to support these changes? If so, will Solaris customers truly care if it is available as an open source operating system?"

Wettersten's reply: "Openness fuels innovation."

The Big Five

Solaris 10 went into beta in March 2004. Different features have been trickling out on a monthly schedule through Sun's Software Express program. More than 600 changes are expected in Solaris 10, including a handful of additions that have their roots in trying to improve Solaris 8.

Before its launch event in Shanghai earlier this month, Sun said 80,000 people are active Solaris Express users. In March, Sun registered some 60,000 members. That number is expected to rise sharply along with interest in open sourcing Solaris.

The big five additions include a partitioning technology (N1 Grid Containers); a diagnostic tool for system administrators (DTrace), Predictive Self Healing, Crypto Infrastructure and Dynamic File System.

DTrace comprises three parts: a set of at least 25,000 dynamic probes in the software; a framework that activates and deactivates those probes and gathers information from them; and a simple C-like scripting language (called "D") that is used to control and automate the collection and enable the display of the system data.

"We've been spending a huge amount of time pouring the infrastructure for Solaris 10. It was about at the end of Solaris 8 that we poured out that foundation for Solaris 10," Cantrill said.

Sun has even tested DTrace on its own networks. In October of 2002, the company was working on installing some GNOME software when it found it was getting a tenth the amount of users over its Sun Ray servers running Solaris 9. Using the DTrace tool, Sun found a stock ticker application that was eating up resources like mad.

Solaris 10 also includes some partitioning technology called N1 Grid containers. The advancement was needed, according to Sun engineer Andy Tucker, because most data center operators report that their systems only use 10 percent of their total capacity, leaving huge amounts of the resources idle.

"There are a number of companies that supply Web hosting and maintaining," Tucker said. "What we've done is take that functionality and make it so that operators can observe what is going on in the network."

Previously known as Solaris Zones and "Project Kevlar," the server could be allocated to support some 20 zones on average but boasted that there is no virtual limit because each zone has its own IP address, Tucker said.

"One of the ideas for this came in from the Jails project from FreeBSD," Tucker said.

Sun is also releasing its long-awaited ZFS (short for Zettabyte File System), which gets its roots from the classic POSIX-compliant Unix file-system. Sun's engineers also developed the technology to self-tune file systems and added in features that make it simpler to administer in the first place.

"Companies are also putting the checksum systems in EMC products and other storage boxes," said Jeff Bonwick, Sun's Dynamic File System (ZFS) manager.

Tucker also confirmed that other features will make their way into Solaris 10 enterprise operating system including "Clustrex," which is a single-node restart as standard, "FMA/Greenline" self-healing and fault management, InfiniBand support, "Atomic Operations" (a set of tools or programming libraries), BART (Basic Audit and reporting Tool) which is like a "lite" version of Tripwire, more advanced NUMA optimizations, and more security/authentication features.