Volume 8, Number 18 -- May 8, 2008

Sun Delivers OpenSolaris Development Distro, Plus Support

Published: May 8, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

It may be anywhere from one to two months late coming to market, depending on how generous you want to be, but Sun Microsystems has delivered a usable distribution of OpenSolaris, the open source and development edition of the Solaris 10 Unix platform. But don't be confused. Sun also thinks that for those bleeding-edge companies who need all the latest-greatest features that have not yet been added to a patch for the commercial-grade Solaris, OpenSolaris is appropriate for production, too.

This pseudo-commercial approach with the OpenSolaris distribution, which was developed as "Project Indiana" and in a prescient way anticipating the presidential primaries in that runoff in the state of Indiana, could turn out to be a big differentiator for Solaris--open source or binary/commercial editions--because of the contrast it gives Sun in the operating system space. First, the two major Linux vendors, Red Hat and Novell, distribute their respective Fedora Project and openSUSE development releases so developers and other interested parties can be on the bleeding edge, but they do not offer commercial-grade patch and tech support on their platforms. Microsoft certainly has broad beta programs for its Windows platform, but nothing is open source so developers outside of the Microsoft firewall do not have much input--and no political clout in the Windows development community--to compel a change. And by comparison, IBM's AIX and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX Unixes, which are not widely put into beta testing, are certainly not freely distributed, and run on a limited set of iron, do not have development releases, much less an open source implementation and a community of developers backing them up. To Sun's credit, it is taking the best habits of the open source Linux communities and leaving behind the bad habits and limited thinking of the Unix stalwarts (of which Sun itself was one) and then trying to find a third way to build momentum in the market that in turn leads to revenues and profits.

The jury is still out if this approach will give Sun any better numbers than had it kept Solaris closed source and charged license fees for it. But you will never be able to say that Sun's top brass didn't give the open source approach a whirl.

Anyway, the Project Indiana release was announced this week at the CommunityOne Developer Conference in San Francisco, an event that used to be exclusively related to Java (which was not open source when the conference started many years ago) and that is now covering a wide swath of open source projects that Sun either controls--OpenSolaris, MySQL, Java, OpenOffice, and a number of other important ones--or contributes to.

With over 12 million Solaris 10 licenses in distribution in the past three years, there are obviously a lot of developers and system administrators tinkering and tooling around with Sun's Unix distribution, and OpenSolaris 2008.05, as this initial Project Indiana release is called, is not just about rolling up a new package of Solaris with new patches that are not part of the Solaris 10 5/08 update, which also just shipped. It is also about experimentation and how that drives adoption of technologies and further innovation. And the Zettabyte File System built into Solaris 10 and now OpenSolaris is going to help. OpenSolaris is distributed as a LiveCD image, and you can try it on a machine without actually installing it on a physical box or inside one of a number of virtual machine partitions, including Sun's recently acquired VirtualBox as well as Xen and ESX Server partitions. But developers like to play, and things go wrong--even in test environments that might as well be production.

"Risk-free experimentation is a big issue for developers, who like to play but who also sometimes get into trouble as they are playing," explains Dan Roberts, director of marketing for Solaris at Sun. "But ZFS allows developers to rollback to a previous state of the operating system, which is like having a big undo button." ZFS takes a snapshot of the operating system and its state every time it does an update, and developers can force a snapshot before they do something risky with the system.

As part of the OpenSolaris 2008.05 release, which is available at the www.opensolaris.com domain (the OpenSolaris community development project remains at the opensolaris.org domain), Sun is also releasing a new graphical environment for its Dynamic Trace, or DTrace, debugging tool called DLight. Various applications ported to Solaris--including an AMP stack (Apache, MySQL, Perl, Python, and PHP), a MARS stack (MySQL, Apache, Ruby, and Solaris), as well as Firefox and other common tools--have been retrofitted with probe points that allow DTrace to monitor them. (Should that be a SAMP stack, just to be consistent?)

The OpenSolaris distribution is also mimicking the more recent Linux distros in that they have a publicly available build system that allows custom distributions to be created and packaged up by users. In Sun's case, it has created a Web-based build system called the Image Packaging System.

Roberts says that Sun intends to keep a six-month release cadence for the OpenSolaris development release, which at the moment only runs on 32-bit X86 and 64-bit X64 processors made by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Customers who want to run a development version of Solaris on Sparc iron have to make do with Solaris 10 Developer's Edition until Sun gets a Sparc variant of OpenSolaris out the door. Roberts would not say precisely when this might happen, but did say that Sun is eager to get it available as soon as possible on Sparc iron and that it would be done before the year is out.

OpenSolaris basic support, which includes Web support and the ability to get bugs fixed, costs $324 per machine per year on a machine with up to two processor sockets; a production-grade, 24x7 support costs $2,160 per year for a two-socket box. That basic support price is exactly the same as Sun is charging for its basic Solaris 10 commercial support, which is restricted to one-socket or two-socket machines at $324 per year. Sun also offers standard support, which ix 9x5 business hour support with telephone contact in addition to the Web, for $720 per year on a two-socket X64 box and $1,320 a year on larger X64 machines; support on Sparc boxes is more expensive as machines get more cores (which seems a bit unfair). Premium support (24x7 with full handholding) on a two-socket box costs $1,080 for the regular Solaris 10 commercial edition, so companies that want to put OpenSolaris 2008.05 into production have to budget carefully, since they are paying twice as much for support per machine. The bleeding edge has costs in so many ways.

There will soon be another way to get OpenSolaris 2008.05. Amazon also announced this week that it is having a limited beta test of OpenSolaris slices running on its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) compute and storage utility. The beta is an invitation-only affair for now, but eventually it will be available for anyone to deploy for around 10 cents per CPU-hour. Amazon claims to have over 200,000 accounts on the EC2 utility these days--and that is a lot of people tooling around.


OpenSolaris Project Weaves CIFS Server Into the Solaris Kernel

'Project Indiana' OpenSolaris Preview Debuts

Sun Elaborates on its xVM Virtualization Plans

BrandZ Containers, xVM Partitions to Host Legacy Solaris Applications

Sun Enhances Solaris Developer Edition, Adds Support

Q&A: Sun's Top Operating System Brass Talk OS Strategy

Project Indiana to Create an OpenSolaris Distro

OpenSolaris Gets Lots of Storage-Related Code from Sun

Sun Taps Linux Guru to Guide Operating System Strategy

OpenSolaris: One Year Down, Participation Up

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
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