Solaris as an Open Source alternative to Linux

October 23, 2010 at 9:23 am 15 comments

When I left Solaris after the Sun/Oracle marger, it was because I wanted to try some new things in life possibly based on OpenSolaris. I had led Solaris in networking and network virtualization space for a long time and wanted to make a bigger mark in that space compared to what Oracle might have wanted. But my hope was that Solaris as a Open Source Operating System would continue to prosper and I could possibly use OpenSolaris as a base for whatever I decided to do next. Well, the exodus from Solaris has continued over the past few months and now Mike has also decided to call it quits. Mike was one of my counterparts, running the storage side of the house (other leaders in storage and filesystem space, like Jeff and Bryan had already bailed out of Solaris few months after I left).

So at this point, I am forced to consider the fact that Solaris and OpenSolaris are on the brink of death unless something serious is done about it. Having spent so much time and energy in last 15 years on Solaris (including bringing it back from life after the last tech bust when Solaris had been labeled Slowlaris), I would personally like to see it go on. Given the richness of Solaris and what it offers to developers, the opensource community doesn’t deserve to lose it. We had relentlessly added APIs for all the networking and virtualization code (Crossbow and Zones) in past few years to name a few. Dealing with creating VNICs, walking links, creating Zones, etc from a developer point of view is very easy (more on what’s there for developers some other day).

So the question I have been pondering for last few weeks is what does it take to create a truly vibrant OpenSource kernel as an alternative to Linux. During Sun days, we had tried to set up Solaris as an open source alternative to Linux and we moved all development, process, architectural review, etc in the open but somehow the community never truly believed us. But now with Oracle having closed source the OS and struggling to keep it alive, there might be truly an opportunity for OpenSolaris to be reborn as an true opensource alternative to Linux. There seems to some effort already in form of illumos led by Garrett and an OpenIndiana distro. Now Garrett works for Nexenta who has a business based on Solaris I do believe they can throw some resources to keep it running.

What does an open source OS need?

There are several things that are needed on short term that doesn’t take too many resources. Not in any particular order of importance:

  • Drivers for new device
    I have seen Garrett personally dish out drivers faster then people can install and test them so he can at least keep one part of the OS
    alive i.e. drivers for new devices.
  • Packaging, Delivery and Install
    Then there is the packaging, delivery etc. which someone has to pick up. Perhaps the OpenIndiana guys can make that their core competency. Maybe they can finish the IPS system and make changes for the file based URI that it had already started to go towards. Things like: 

    • Allow someone to make a non network clone of the repo (at least for the true opensource packages including the kernel). This allows enough people to feel that they truly have control over all aspects on the kernel without need a repo server that they don’t control. Maybe something as simple as installing a server from the network repo along the lines of
      % pkg image-create file:///var/pkg file:///my_repo
      % pkg image-create -g origin_server file:///my_repo
    • Allowing someone to save a copy of a package locally that he can later install. Something like this
      % pkg clone [-g origin_server] pkg_fmri_pattern /local_path
    • And allow some to install the saved package over riding the dependency check if needed.
      % pkg install [-f] file:///net/hostname/local_path
      % pkg install [-f] [-g origin_server] pkg_fmri_pattern

    Of course, the directions above are just some thoughts – the details of which need to be refined based on input from the end users. The hosting etc necessary for repo servers for delivery is perhaps the easy part. The install is another story altogether, given that a large amount of code for automatic install has not even been opensourced but I think we can go by for a few years before that has to be addressed.

  • Bug fixing
    Again, given the Solaris talent now outside of Oracle, this is easy. For Bryan, who works at Joyent which again depends on Solaris, doing some P1 fixes is easy. I can do some critical fixes when necessary and there are so many others now outside of Oracle that we need to reach out to
  • New Platform Support
    As new chips come out, you need to add support at the minimum. Now we are getting into some tricky business. I have been discussing the idea of an OpenSolaris Foundation with some companies that support such open source initiatives. I have discussed that with some of the ex Sun DEs and Sr. Engineers as well and it seems appealing to people. Two things needed to happen for this to take off. One was Oracle having truly killed OpenSolaris so there is a clean fork (which I think has already happened). The other is a harder problem and which is the last thing on my list.
  • Mission and Innovation
    The open source OS for the sake of another OS is not very palatable to people who can fund the foundation. I got suggestions around mobile
    space for which I don’t think Solaris is ideal OS (yet). There seem to be interest along the direction of moving Solaris as a distributed OS in the cloud space. This gels with what I have been working on along with few others – a distributed network operating system geared
    towards clouds. Maybe moving my effort on top of Solaris would provide the mission in one direction (and my own requirement to use Solaris
    has been now met i.e. Oracle should kill it so there is no ambiguity). There is a revolution happening in that space already with Openflow, Trill,
    etc. and I am trying to figure out how to break the last barrier in the datacenter.

So to answer the question What have I been upto? –  now you know. And to answer the question Will I allow my work on Solaris to die?  I guess the answer is resounding- No. Will I port things like Crossbow and Zones to freebsd? – the answer is if OpenSolaris truly dies, then hell yes. And before someone points out that Zones is really same as BSD Jails, you should look again carefully.

So Solaris users and Solaris lovers, love to hear your thoughts.


Entry filed under: Solaris.

Its not a goodbye. Leaving Oracle but not Solaris!! Network 2.0: Virtualization without Limits

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Giovanni  |  October 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    “During Sun days, we had tried to set up Solaris as an open source alternative to Linux and we moved all development, process, architectural review, etc in the open but somehow the community never truly believed us”

    With all due respect, “all” doesn’t apply here. The fact that Sun tried to retain much of the control on everything has already been discussed enough.

    I also don’t see the apocalypse ahead of us because a few top developers left. Isn’t Solaris much bigger than those individuals? Was the Solaris development team so small and dependent on them? They are excellent engineers, but are they the only ones?

    My take on the high profiles that left: Oracle as a corporation wasn’t willing to give them the same star status that Sun did and actually wanted business-savvy people leading the company. (VPs writing code?! only in startups).

    Sun seemed to be a great research center that lacked business focus. Look where it has led it to.

  • 2. HenrikJ  |  October 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Solaris is a great computing platform but one of the major issues with Solaris has always been application availability / diversity – it does not make sense to run an OS anno 2010 where you have to compile most of the components that make up your digital life or software that you might depend on server wise – it reminds me of the mid 90’s.

    There have been several attempts to remedy this in the last 3 years but none were particular successful.

    Software availability is a key differentiator between a hobbyist tinkering installation and a real computing platform.

  • 3. Sriram Narayanan  |  October 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Absolutely awesome to hear from you again, Sunay. The Belenix team will shortly being full fledged work now that Nexenta have made their distro plans clear (i.e. continue to use spkg despite Debian-legal being averse to that).

    Illumos would definitely benefit from having you around 🙂

  • 4. Sriram Narayanan  |  October 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Please send me a note with your email address. We need ways to reach you 🙂

  • 5. sanjay  |  October 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Note that Install and IPS gates are still open.

  • 6. Sachin  |  October 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Well , let me introduce myself , my name is sachin
    i would gladly work for OpenIndiana . But im just a rookie , but i’ve got an engineering background and interested in FOSS development if only someone would take the burden of showing me the way.

  • 7. Sriram Narayanan  |  October 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    @giovanni : There were some of places with the Solaris world where things were open. Solaris network and Crossbow were one of them.

  • 8. Paul F  |  October 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    I’m a late comer to the Solaris world, but I’ve come to appreciate what has gone into building it. It seems like I was one of the few attracted by the OpenSolaris effort.

    I come from a Linux background, and in my day job I deal with almost every noteworthy distribution out there. That’s really highlighted to me the inconsistency that exists within Linux. Solaris was a breath of fresh air in comparison…compelling technology with consistency.

    I know that the split from Oracle has happened very recently and that things are happening in the background, but I’d love to see some clarity on where OpenIndiana, Illumos, etc. are headed. I really hope to see Solaris, regardless of the name, continue with same level of engineering diligence it’s had in the past.

    As a side note, is it just me or do all the open Sun products seem to be withering in the same way? OpenSolaris (forking), OpenOffice (forking), MySQL (forking) Java (with Apple’s announcement), etc. Is Oracle paying attention? Sun was making making an effort to pull in new people. It obviously came too late, but Oracle seems to be dismissing this altogether. It’s a shame really…I liked a lot of these products.

  • 9. Marcelo Leal  |  October 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Nice to hear from you Sunay! I think you did touch in many really important aspects of open source, and development. It’s really important to have engineers like you, that know the internals of this OS to led people in this mission.
    I do agree that is important to have a base, to have a distribution that (users) can download, install and have fun. And a simple procedure to download source code and cooperate (developers). Because that help users to become developers.
    So, maybe, little mortals like me can try to help too.


  • […] Solaris as an Open Source alternative to Linux « Sunay Tripathi's Blog This entry was posted on Saturday, October 23rd, 2010 at 9:23 am and is filed under Linux, […]

  • 11. Dave Miner  |  October 25, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Wrong about packaging and installation, Sunay. You’d do well to actually go and inquire with the IPS and Caiman teams, who remain completely open for community business and contributions and have done a great deal of work since you apparently last looked. Hope you’ll take the time…

    • 12. sunaytripathi  |  October 26, 2010 at 12:58 am

      Dave, I already stand corrected. Sanjay also pointed that out. To my defense, I did try to
      pull from caiman and pkg gates about a month back and I didn’t see anything
      more recent than 147 tags. Anyway, give me a ping when you are visiting next
      time and I will buy beer.

  • 13. irisguyaer  |  October 26, 2010 at 12:38 am

    As a fan of open source operating systems including OpenSolaris now with OpenIndiana, Linux (various distros), I am glad to hear that Open source Operating Systems are alive. Thanks to the engineers who dedicated their effort on improving the lives of millions.

    I just want to offer my opinion especially about the demise of Sun’s OpenSolaris. I believe that one of the contributing factor of its failure is this: “Alternative to Linux” mantra. Linux has its place in the enterprise and more so of Solaris-based operating systems because of its technical superioriority(Solaris being light-years ahead of Linux). We cannot change this absolute fact. However, you can’t convince me to change my CentOS/zimbra install for Solaris overnight. If I want network virtualization, then Solaris is a perfect choice, but I just want to run zimbra which is _officially_ supported in Linux. What I mean is I think it is right to stop taunting OpenIndiana as an alternative to Linux in _general_, OpenIndiana can be an alternative on specific systems but not on _every systems_ at this time.

  • 14. Gabriele Bulfon  |  October 31, 2010 at 2:21 am

    We run something like Zimbra on Solaris since Solaris 8.
    Same technology under it (cyrus and all the stuff).
    Seems as if we did the same job of zimbra but on Solaris.
    Recent web frontend has been completely redesigned to ajax.
    You may want to have a look, if you want to run your cyrus on a safer zfs system, and a new web interface (two themes at the moment, outlook and thunderbird).
    We will be releasing the web framwork and groupware shortly in open source.
    Contact me for an online demo 😉

  • 15. jake  |  November 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm


    excelent post, keep it coming…


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