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Sun: "It's Not That We're Trying to Undercut Linux"

Sun: "It's Not That We're Trying to Undercut Linux"

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    When last interviewed by SYS-CON Radio at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, Sun's John Fanelli - senior director of marketing for Sun's Network Systems Group - was adamant that the sheer number of product offerings Sun has delivered into the Linux community was testimony enough to the fact that, while Solaris is very important to Sun, no one should doubt Sun's parallel commitment to Linux.

    Now, just this Tuesday, he has repeated more or less the same line to a reporter, saying "It's not that we're trying to undercut Linux, and we ship and support Red Hat on our systems, but we are going to do everything we can to provide the most compelling Solaris environment."

    The occasion for the most recent reassurance was the countdown (just 11 days to go now) to the launch by Sun of Solaris 10.

    If Solaris happened to be, say, more cost-effective than a Red Hat Enterprise Linux solution might be, Fanelli suggested, well that was just market forces at work. In other words, nothing much has changed: Sun is still going after RHEL, and taking care to show the open source community that it is not undercutting Linux itself, merely the world's most prevalent commercial Linux distro.

    It is going to be a hard row to hoe. Back in September, when Forbes ran a headline, "Sun Micro Still A Potential Threat To Linux," Sun's president and COO Jonathan Schwartz devoted an entire day's entry in his power blog to refuting Forbes's implication.

    What sparked the Forbes report in the first place was the news from Credit Suisse First Boston that a recent run on Red Hat's stock price had been "due at least in part to reports that Sun is changing its plan to encourage sales of its Solaris system on commodity, or non-Sun, hardware." The market, CSFB stated, had been overreacting. Many execution challenges remained for Sun, the research firm noted, adding "and we find no evidence that Sun's recent initiatives at the low end of the market are changing strategic decisions to migrate to Linux."

    What maddened Schwartz was the conflation, by Forbes, of Linux and Red Hat. He pointed out, indignantly: "Red Hat is not linux, despite what they say, and despite what the media (and IBM's ads) seem to conflate."

    "Sun is not a threat to GNU/linux," Schwartz declared. "Nor is Solaris 10."

    The reason Schwartz insists always on writing 'linux' instead of Linux is something he explained back in July, when he wrote:

    "Now, I put linux in quotes (with all deference and respect) because that one word wasn't just one product - it was, in effect, a reprise of the open source movement on which Sun was founded. And that movement yielded a blizzard of distros. There was (and still is, especially on desktops or clients) no single linux. But if you speak to as many customers as I do, you quickly see that neither they, nor ISV's can afford to support 100 different distributions in the datacenter."

    So Sun's "Red Hat is not linux" refrain is nothing new. But hearing John Fanelli this week was a reminder of just how important the argument is if Sun is to launch Solaris 10 painlessly next week in terms of its standing in the open source community.

    Sun is not targeting anyone but Red Hat, which is a distro. ("Let's get specific," Schwartz urged in that same September blog. "Let's start calling a distro a distro.")

    "To my friends in the media," he thundered, "you are confusing a social movement with a single company - that social movement is all about choice, innovation and freedom. Not dominance or dependence."

    "In that light," Schwartz continued, "no innovation Sun delivers...can be anti-linux." 

    So Sun, in Schwartz's worldview, is not a threat to Linux, nor is innovation a threat to Linux, nor dTrace nor Solaris 10 nor Janus.

    "They are a problem for Red Hat."

    As for the commitment, at JavaOne earlier this year and elsewhere, by Sun's Scott McNealy, to open-source Solaris. That too is not without considerable complications: Sun simply doesn't own all the IP behind Solaris 10.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Quezztion 11/04/04 12:24:14 PM EST

    If it's not "undercutting Linux" then how come Sun's own John Loiacomo has said that Sun "dropped the ball" while customers rushed to Linux/Intel computing? He clearly thinks the Solaris 10 upgrade will mean the ball's been picked up.

    Mixed messages?

    Sun'sOS 11/04/04 11:40:55 AM EST

    Solaris can no more be open sourced than John Kerry can elected president - the back-end work's not sufficient, it can't be done. Anyone asked SCO, for example?

    WarChant 11/04/04 07:38:36 AM EST

    Sun recently declared war on Linux, especially Red Hat. Microsoft is re-focusing its "Get the FUD" campain, trying to hurt Red Hat, too. Coincidence, or Microsoft's Java money at work?

    leereyno 11/04/04 07:31:13 AM EST

    I work for the college of engineering at Arizona State University where I support Unix systems for the computer science department. The sun systems here are withering on the vine. Every time one is in need of replacement a Linux system is bought to take its place. I expect that within 5 or 6 years sun systems will be all but gone at ASU. Our central IT organization is going through a similar migration.

    This isn't because of some edict from on high either. This is happening because every single time, Linux on commodity hardware makes more sense from multiple angles than Solaris on proprietary and extremely expensive hardware

    mindstrm 11/04/04 07:29:09 AM EST

    Can anyone cite a real life example where Solaris was used in place of linux on a new project for a valid reason? I'm sure such reasons exist.. but I can no longer think of one.

    Note: Situations where the choice was made to remain on solaris rather than linux, because you had an E10k or something, I don't consider valid for this question... staying with what you already have and know is a little different.

    So.. anyone got an example of some wonderful solaris feature than linux doesn't have?

    liquidpele 11/04/04 06:40:14 AM EST

    The problem is that people don't like Sun acting like it's playing nice when they think It'll try to stab linux in the back later.

    Granted both are good systems, but it's the "Sun's going to turn into SCO" fear that this is about I think.

    anon 11/04/04 06:37:47 AM EST

    As someone who has developed kernel modules for Solaris and Linux, I'll say without reservation that Solaris is the best platform to develop and debug on - even WITHOUT the source code.

    Why? Because when the system crashes you can work out what went wrong. mdb, kdb, etc. They're magic. Linux is still living in the dark ages because Linus doesn't believe in using anything for kernel debugging except printf's. On top of that, if you're using Linux inside vmware for testing, a panic (oops or whatever) leaves you scrolling and scrolling...no useful information at all is recovered. BSD has ddb and gdb will work with crash dumps, but BSD crashes dump your entire physical memory whereas a crash on Solaris (2GB of RAM) may only need 120MB of disk space. This may not seem significant until you start collecting a number of crash dumps and keeping them compressed is not desirable.

    Then there's the problem of which Linux you're developing for. Unless you're a 3rd party to the Linux source tree you really won't know the horror that is the Linux kernel source tree when it comes to building the same source on RH9 and Fedora2 and SUSE9.1 and...oh, none of those are "virgin" Linux kernels - that's different again.

    Reading about Kprobes and Linux...I'll say this: beware patents. I would presume that Sun is patenting a lot of the new things it develops for Solaris. What's the upshot of this? If you're a Dell or similar trying to sell Linux (i.e. don't have a war chest full of patents you own) then you could find Sun (or IBM or HP) deciding that they should be getting a piece of your Linux pie. Blindly copying features from any proprietary OS into another OS (free or not) is something developers should be doing with great caution - now and in the future - especially for new technologies like Dtrace. Don't assume that Microsoft and IBM are the only ones that understand the importance of establishing a good IP portfolio.

    NotSo 11/04/04 06:35:43 AM EST

    High end SGI, HP and IBM systems with hundreds of processors are running Linux as the official and in some cases only platform.

    Everyone in the industry except Sun is putting all their work into making Linux the best performer on these systems, so your argument about commercial OS's being best for specialized hardware is no longer true.

    TheLastUser 11/04/04 06:34:22 AM EST

    The problem with Linux is that its a least common denominator OS. All of the development effort goes in to the most commonly used hardware configurations.

    This is great if you are running a uni-processor desktop machine, or 2 cpu web server, but if you are doing anything that's even remotely non-trivial, like a cluster with a shared SAN. The support is primitive, to say the least. For these sorts of tasks, Solaris (and other commercial OS's) tend to be a better choice, IMHO.

    GrowUpRH 11/04/04 06:25:22 AM EST

    Sun is not anti-Linux. Sun sells Linux too. They claim that Solaris is better and cheper than Red Hat. You can custom make a Linux distro that is better than Red Hat and approaches Solaris. Sun does not address that. I'd say it's good competition. Linux has a lot going for it. Red Hat though has to learn to live with competition and behave more maturely. They were eating the Sun accounts quietly but when Sun turned around ready to compete, Red Hat started behaving like a teenage winer.

    Doomdark 11/04/04 06:21:51 AM EST

    You can only be 97% certain it will get open sourced (say, 2% chance Sun gets bought out by another company before it happens, 1% that Jonathan S. gets canned; either way canceling the plans).

    Rambo 11/04/04 06:19:39 AM EST

    I always love it when people make generalized comments like "it never ever goes down"; referring to Solaris. I spent several years on a team of sys admins helping to maintain anywhere from 5 to 10 E10K boxes running multiple domains on each system. I can assure you they DID go down, and often enough to really cause issues. Mind you this was a very stressful environment, processing millions of telecom records a day, but we got bitten by a myriad of odd bugs, ranging from the eCache bug to random reboots for no apparent reason. No messages, no logging, just poof! Reboot. Then there were the days spent down because some odd hardware fault would keep the on-site Sun guy scratching his head, be it a bad backplane or some other problem. We constantly had issues with correctable memory errors as well; we were told that a few were fine, and it took 50 an hour to get them to swap RAM out. I never got a chance to run those same loads on Linux so I have no basis for comparison, but I assure you there's nothing flawless about Solaris (we ran 2.6-8, incidentally). Much like another vendor's "Unbreakable" claim...

    Debian user 11/04/04 06:03:47 AM EST

    I'm a big Linux fan (typing this on my Debian box), but no one who has seriously admined Solaris boxes can say that the two are even remotely equal on big servers.
    I don't think this will be the case forever. I think Linux is catching up faster than Solaris is improving. But Linux isn't ready for the big iron machines Solaris dominates yet.

    jbanes 11/04/04 05:47:03 AM EST

    Solaris is designed around high availability, easy problem diagnosis, and fault recovery. In exchange it sacrifices speed and kernel size.

    Linux is built to be lean and fast, and sacrifices some high availability and problem diagnosis features to reach that goal. There are five gazillion patches if you want to make Linux something like Solaris, albeit not as integrated.

    Soooo.... what is the problem here? The two systems attempt two different goals. That doesn't make them better or worse, it only makes them different. Let the consumers decide what it is they want from a system

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