Project Indiana Brings Solaris to Linux Developers

Sun’s VP of developer and community marketing, Ian Murdock,  invited developers to reconsider the value of Linux in terms of open-source features that have been added to the Linux kernel and to take a look at Sun’s efforts to make Solaris more accessible and appealing to Linux users. Murdock, the founder of the Debian Linux distribution and former CTO of the Linux Foundation, has been with Sun for about a year, during which time he has been asked at least “a thousand times” (according to him), “What’s a Linux guy doing working for Sun?” His Friday morning keynote at Tech Days Saint Petersburg consisted of a detailed answer to this question.
 
When people talk about the Linux distribution - Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu etc. - they are really talking not about the Linux kernel but the open source software that has aggregated around the kernel and the business model that goes with it. From this perspective, Linux is Firefox and Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, the Gnome Desktop environment, the X Window system, the GNU utilities and system libraries and so on.
 
Ian pointed to the similarities between Linux and Solaris: both use the same open source applications, the same desktop environment, same graphics subsystems, the same basic interfaces and utilities, but with different implementations and interfaces. Things are dramatically different in the Solaris kernel where Sun drives most of the operating system innovation with ZFS, DTrace and other technologies. In contrast, the innovation that Linux brings to the market is higher up the stack in the desktop environment and user components.
 
The Linux distribution could be thought of as a cloud of technologies. For instance, Linux distributors such as Ubuntu, Red Hat, or SUSE work with those technologies to build a complete operating system that developers can install and use, and then pull down packages from the open source community to resolve dependencies. Thus, developers can be spared the work of aggregation and integration.
 
Solaris 10 has a different structure, more like a monolithic product. There are rigorous processes and procedures at Sun that determine how technologies like DTrace and ZFS fit into the product and go to market.
 
Project Indiana – The “Distro-ification” of Solaris
 
Murdock then turned to Project Indiana, a part of OpenSolaris, which is an attempt to “take the tremendous amount of innovation we are driving into the operating system marketplace in the Solaris kernel and combine that with the tremendous innovation in the open-source community.” The goal is to combine the best of both worlds by making Solaris into a cloud with a strong platform with innovative features at the kernel.
 
Project Indiana moves Solaris from a monolithic model to a modular one with a package system and a new distribution model. It creates a small core operating system that is Solaris based, with a Solaris kernel, Solaris utilities, but adds a package system that allows developers to reach out into the cloud of open-source technology, and pull down in a fully integrated fashion. The result is a core Solaris system with a collection of packaged repositories surrounding it that delivers Sun’s Solaris innovation in DTrace and ZFS, plus the non-Sun innovation of the open-source community.
 
Closing the Familiarity Gap and Taking Advantage of Solaris Innovation
 
Murdock identified two central challenges for Project Indiana: closing the familiarity gap and taking advantage of Solaris innovation. The project is challenged with making it as easy as possible for users, developers, and administrators who are familiar with Linux to get up and running with Solaris. And it must also enable Linux users to take maximal advantage of the unique capabilities of Solaris such as DTrace and ZFS, which must be woven into the operating system all the way up the stack.
 
Sun has added a package system to OpenSolaris that utilizes the ZFS capability that enables developers to take a snapshot of a file system and then roll back to an earlier snapshot. So if developers want to upgrade their system but something goes wrong, they can roll back to the point where everything was working – something Linux can't do.
 
Project Indiana is also working to bring lower-level operating system technologies such as DTrace up the stack to serve the interests of developers building in new environments like PHP and Ruby.
 
The Project Indiana developer preview is available, as Solaris CTO and Sun Fellow Jim Hughes demonstrated to the audience, who had been given starter kits. Project Indiana is planning a first release of  binary distribution that can be downloaded and installed in May of 2008.
 
Why Project Indiana?
 
Murdock pointed to fundamental changes in the computer industry that Project Indiana – and Sun’s open source software strategy -- is responding to. One change is bottom up deployment. “It used to be,” explained Murdock, “that when you wanted to deploy a piece of software, you went through a fairly heavyweight top-down process in which you procured the software, requested proposals, budgets, went through committee approval processes and so on. In the last five to ten years, as technology has become more affordable and prevalent, students come out of college understanding how to take technology and solve problems, and administrators are making decisions without going through heavyweight top-down processes.”
 
So information technology decisions, according to Murdock, take place much earlier in the development cycle. “No CIO wakes up one day and decides that they need to get some Linux,” he explained. “He just wakes up and realizes that Linux is everywhere.”

Sun continues offering the top-down product for enterprise customers who are accustomed to dealing with vendors in the traditional way, in the form of Solaris. For Solaris 10 users, nothing has changed.
 
But Sun is adding a delivery mechanism for Solaris for the bottom-up deployer market by making it more accessible and familiar to developers in order to create an added business opportunity for Sun. The idea is to make a product open source and free, familiar, usable and accessible and monetize it through services and support, indemnification, hardware, storage and other Sun offerings.
 
This is the direction software is heading at Sun.
 
See Also
 
Ian Murdock
OpenSolaris Community
Project Indiana Developer Preview
Project Indiana
 
Learn more about Sun Tech Days.
 
Janice J. Heiss
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