SCO OpenServer 6 Launches with Unix SVR5 Kernel
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The SCO Group launched its "Legend" update of the OpenServer Unix operating system this week, and chose Yankee Stadium in New York as a venue and a theme for how it has fostered the Unix market in the past and how it intends to grow its Unix business in the future despite the onslaught of Linux and Windows. The launch of Legend puts SCO one step closer to having a single Unix-on-Intel product line, and for many customers, Legend does enough of what UnixWare does to make it unnecessary.
The Legend release of OpenServer, which will be sold as OpenServer 6, is the kicker to OpenServer 5, which was launched in 2002 and is the fifth generation of entry-level Unix for X86 platforms that SCO (in one corporate incarnation or another) has brought to market since OpenServer was first delivered in 1992. The Santa Cruz Operation, as the company was known back then, was mostly known for its desktop Xenix operating system, which had the distinction in 1987 as being the first 32-bit operating system to support the 32-bit 80386 processors from Intel. While Xenix and Unix V/386 (its kicker) were sometimes used as servers (notably as the backbone at SCO partner Microsoft), it was really the OpenServer product line that gave SCO a business that allowed it to go public in 1993 and become the volume Unix operating system provider in the market. OpenServer running on the then-new PC servers was a viable alternative to big, expensive RISC/Unix boxes or Novell NetWare running on X86 servers. OpenServer became one of a handful of platforms that was used by thousands of software providers and system resellers who wanted to peddle turnkey solutions. The OpenServer base, despite the acquisition of the UnixWare product line from Novell in 1995, still represents the bulk of SCO's revenue stream.
That is why SCO is fired up about the Legend release. While OpenServer 5.0.7 is notable in that it provided some limited support for UnixWare 7 applications, OpenServer 5 was based on the Unix System V Release 3.2 kernel, which is very old and has some pretty severe limitations in terms of threading, main memory, and file system support. That's why SCO bought UnixWare and the rights to the Unix operating system created by AT&T from Novell to have a more scalable Unix than OpenServer. To preserve backward compatibility with the large installed base of OpenServer customers--there could be as many as 1 million servers installed in the world that are running OpenServer and UnixWare--SCO has not messed with that kernel, even as Unix System V was updated to Release 4 and then Release 5. With Legend, that changes, and OpenServer now uses the SVR5 kernel while maintaining backward compatibility with all prior generations of OpenServer, Unix, and Xenix Unixes from SCO. Yes, you can still run Xenix 286 binaries developed in 1986 for the 16-bit 80286 processor on today's 64-bit Xeon processors from Intel on top of OpenServer 6, bragged Sandy Gupta, SCO's vide president of development, at the announcement this week. He said, in fact, that some game developers had tested Xenix 286 games on OpenServer 6 to make sure they still ran.
While SCO's chief executive officer, Darl McBride, laid on the baseball metaphors a bit thick at the announcement this week--even reversing his Yankees cap to "rally mode" and hefting a bat throughout the announcement--he conceded that SCO's products have been "a little narrow" in the past and that OpenServer 6 fixes this. By supporting both OpenServer and UnixWare applications, as well as modern Java and Web services workloads and a large collection of open source applications, SCO feels it is ready with a product that can compete against Linux and Windows--and do so with good technology and at a competitive price. "Linux is kind of interesting in that it is free, but it is free in the way that a puppy is free," quipped McBride. "We are selling a product for a price, but once we sell it, it does have anywhere near the maintenance requirements that Linux has."
As to those who would say that SCO has been beaten down pretty hard first by Windows and then by Linux, McBride pointed out that competing would require luck as well as skill, and to fire up the crowd at the announcement (which had lots of SCO partners and customers in it), he reminded everyone that on the prior night, the Yankees were down 10 runs against the Devil Rays, but they came back at the end to beat them 20 to 11. "We have our rally hats on, we have our bats in our hands and they are not on our shoulders, and we know that to make a comeback, we have to make some hits."
No one asked about the IBM lawsuit this week at the OpenServer launch, but it is always the elephant in the room. SCO has taken an immense amount of flack--a lot of it well-deserved--for essentially accusing the Linux community of stealing Unix intellectual property and putting it in Linux. (IBM might be the one being sued, but SCO is essentially accusing the Linux community as a whole.) SCO has said time and again that it is only protecting its intellectual property, and there is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, a chance that SCO is correct and the Linux community has misappropriated Unix intellectual property. Any time you leave a matter up to a judge or jury, you are playing with quantum statistics, and improbable things that are not logical can and do happen in the warped space of the courtroom. This is not something open source advocates want to talk about, of course. And the one thing that the Linux and Windows camps will never cop to is that Unix still has plenty of legs in it, and that Unix System V Release 5 is good technology and it will go a long way in making OpenServer more competitive with Linux. This is something SCO needs to boost sales, obviously.
OpenServer 5.0.7 only supported threads at the user level, was limited to scaling across four processors in an SMP configuration, 4 GB of main memory and file sizes of 2 GB; it only supported FAT and FAT16 file systems, did not support multipath I/O, and was missing hot plug features for key components. OpenServer 5.0.7 also did not support many serial devices or important peripherals such as storage area networks or wireless cards. These were, in large part, limits imposed by the System V Release 3.2 kernel.
By moving OpenServer 6 to the System V Release 5 kernel, SCO can now support up to 16 GB of what it is calling "general purpose memory" on servers using either Intel or AMD processors that are either native 32-bit processors (Pentium, Xeon, or Athlon chips, for instance) or are 64-bit processors that support 32-bit modes (the new Pentium and Xeon chips from Intel with EM64T memory extensions or the Athlon 64 and Opteron chips from AMD with X86-64 extensions). For selected applications, such as databases, OpenServer 6 can allocate up to 64 GB of main memory to these applications. OpenServer 6 does not, sadly, support 64-bit main memory addressing--that is slated for a future Unix release called "Fusion" that will finish the job and actually merge UnixWare and OpenServer into one product.
SCO said OpenServer 6 can scale well to 16 processors, and if customers want, it can be pushed to 32 processors. It is possible that the shared 64 GB of main memory is a NUMA extension to SMP for high-end X86 machines from IBM and Unisys. Sadly for SCO, Hewlett-Packard (by virtue of its Compaq acquisition) is the strongest server hardware partner SCO has, but it no longer makes X86 or X64 servers that go beyond four-way SMP. The only big boxes HP sells are the Integrity machines, and those are based on Itanium, which OpenServer does not run on. Unisys was peddling UnixWare on its ES7000s for a number of years, and IBM used to as well on its high-end xSeries servers, but Unisys embraced Linux last summer and IBM would probably not endorse SCO products at this point given the lawsuit. So the 32-way support for OpenServer is of limited marketing value to SCO, even if the larger main memories (64 GB) and larger file sizes (up to 1 TB) that would be useful on such a large machine will be valuable only to a subset of OpenServer customers who need lots of memory or who handle large files.
OpenServer 6 also includes support for hot-plug CPUs and PCI peripherals and the hot addition of main memory, which Gupta says can increase the mean time between system starts on OpenServer 6 to about 20,000 hours. That's a little more than two years and three months, if you do the math. OpenServer 6 also supports the FAT, FAT16, FAT32, VFat, Joliet, and NFS 3 file systems, and adds in support for Serial SCSI and Serial ATA disks to the already supported IDE, SCSI, and Fibre Channel drives supported in OpenServer 5.0.7. Notably, six of HP's Modular SAN Array disk arrays have been certified on OpenServer 6, as have 16 current ProLiant servers and OpenServer 6 includes multipath and asynchronous I/O (bringing it on par with other Unixes and Linux).
For security-conscious customers, OpenServer 6 has its own 28-bit encryption and has been tested against over 7,500 known exploits in Unix and the related software in the OpenServer stack and does not, to SCO's knowledge have any security holes. It also supports IPsec, OpenSSH, and other secure access methods and security features common in the Unix market.
The new operating system does not yet include support for dual-core processors, which is being beta tested right now and should be certified by the end of the summer. Gupta also said SCO was beta testing a third party virtualization program that will allow multiple OpenServer and Windows instances to be run concurrently on a server. He declined to name that that technology was, but said SCO would support Windows 2000 and Windows XP applications inside virtual partitions on the servers that run OpenServer.
And most importantly for SCO's software partners, because of the way the new kernel works, if you certify an application to run on OpenServer 6, it is also certified to run on UnixWare 7--and vice versa. That's because UnixWare 7 and OpenServer 6 have the same SVR5 kernel and runtime, and that runtime has been tweaked to run OpenServer 5 and earlier binaries. So now, vendors only have to do one certification instead of two. Application developers will probably like the fact that OpenServer 6 has the updated Samba 3 file server, the Apache 1.3.33 Web server, and the latest MySQL and PostgreSQL databases integrated and supported by SCO, including patch and technical support.
SCO said OpenServer 6 will initially be available in two flavors. The Starter Edition will cost $599, which includes a license for two concurrent users running on a server with a single processor and up to 1 GB of main memory (if you scale any one of those up, it costs more). The Enterprise Edition will cost $1,399, and it supports 10 users, up to four processors, and up to 4 GB of main memory. Because of all of the changes in the kernel and the surrounding software, SCO said many OpenServer customers will see a factor of two, three, or four performance improvement on their workloads, which will represent a very substantial improvement in bang for the buck.