White box hackers and Solaris Express Developer Edition

Especially here in Southern California, white box hacking is a way of life. With resellers on every corner hawking semi-underground components out of Asia, gamers building water-cooled monsters, and newegg.com right here in the OC, it's a definite scene. My buddy Tony Vigna, uberconsultant and freelance CIO, is a white box guy from way back, although his interests run more toward developing enterprise Open Source configurations that he can recommend to his commerical clients. Lately, I've been singing the praises of Solaris, and he perhaps unwisely has actually been listening to me. Unfortunately, he's encountered a lot of frustration for his pains.

First he tried Solaris Express Developer Edition on one of his white box configurations with a four year old video card. Didn't work. He was willing to let that go. Undeterred, he built up the following white box configuration of the following very mainstream, modern components:

Video  ATI Technologies  R430 [Radeon X800 XL] (PCIe)

Firewire  Texas Instruments  TSB43AB22/A IEEE-1394a-2000 Controller

USB  nVidia Corporation  MCP55  USB Controller

USB   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  USB Controller

Storage   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  IDE

Multimedia   nVidia Corporation  MCP55   High Definition Audio

Network   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  Ethernet

Storage    nVidia Corporation  MCP55 SATA Controller

With this configuration, SXDE 9/07 would not install, even though every device listed above was verified as being supported by the Solaris Device Detection Tool. The install bombed in the middle when it switched over to X11-based graphics, so the problem is probably with the video card, even though it is listed in the Solaris Hardware Compatibility List.

Nice guy that he is, Tony then downloaded  the Build 78 bits and tried again. Here's an excerpt from an email he sent me around 2 AM:

 "Found another problem with the SATA attached DVD ROM drives -- couldn’t find installation files.  He had to hook up an old Plextor USB DVD Drive to advance the installation.  Still DOA with the x800 though.  I might go out and get an NVIDIA 7300GT.  A crap card, but apparently it should work pretty easily.

"One thing the Open Solaris Community should do is publish a handful of reference configurations supporting the white-box hacker at different performance levels.

"A white-box Virtual Server, Database Server, Developer Workstation, CAD/CAM Workstation, etc."

Sounds like a great idea to me. If we're after developer mind share, we need to remember that developers don't just hack software. They hack hardware, too. A guy like Tony is in the position of being able to recommend hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware, software and services to his  clients. Something to think about.

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