Thursday Jan 21, 2010

European Union Approves Oracle's Acquisition of Sun

Here is a link to a press release from the European Commission, announcing that they have cleared Oracle's proposal to acquire Sun Microsystems.  I find it interesting reading because it describes the fundamental issues that the Commission dealt with before making their decision (MySQL, Java, integration of a complete technology stack)

From an open source point of view, I found it satisfying that they mentioned PostgreSQL as part of their deliberation.  They said that they found the PostgreSQL open source database to be a credible alternative to MySQL; essentially, they're saying that the open source DB landscape is not monocultural, and that there are other viable alternatives.  I think they're right, and I'm glad to see that it's not all about MySQL.

My opinion: they took a long time to make a decision, but they considered the issues you'd think they should consider.

The next few days should be really interesting for us at Sun.  Whether employed or not, at least the long purgatory period is finally coming to an end.  I can't tell you how tiresome it has become telling my friends month after month "No real news yet."  It's nice that friends care, but it sucks that there's been no progress to report.  Finally, that's done with.  (whew!)

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Monday Oct 12, 2009

Opening Keynote, Oracle Open World 2009

I attended the Sun keynote at Oracle Open World 2009, which has pretty much overtaken the Yerba Buena center surrounding San Francisco's Moscone Center.  (the photo above shows massive placards covering the Metreon's wall; also, Oracle has put a tent over a full city block's worth of street, on Howard street.  I'd love to see the Google Maps satellite view of that!)

Sunday at Open World was "Sun Day"; the focus was on the combined technologies of Sun and Oracle, matching Sun's system software and hardware with Oracle's database, middleware, and applications.  One thing I really liked about the keynote was the more competitive, in-your-face tone we took to show our advantage over the competition.

Scott began the keynote with a top ten list (dumb ideas in technology); after that, he followed up with a more serious top ten list of his favorite Sun innovations over the last 25+ years.  The list was impressive.

Scott brought James Gosling on stage for a little chat; I actually thought that was pretty flat, and I didn't really learn anything during that section of the keynote, sorry to say.  It would have been great to let James loose and have him talk about technology; I'd love to hear what he has to say about what he think Java could do with all these "bags of Java code" in Oracle's porfolio, as James called it.

James slipped in a funny comment as he left the stage, and Scott riffed on it.  As James was leaving the stage, he was talking about how he was excited to work in this combined Sun / Oracle company, saying "I've never worked for a software company."  (it took a moment for the crowd, and Scott, to get the jab at Sun)  Scott smiled and told the crowd "They won't be a software company when we're done with them."  Lots of laughter.

Here is an image taken from my phone of Scott talking about Sun innovations over the last 25+ years:

Scott handed off to Larry, who spent his time telling a story about how Oracle has been preparing for the conference with some provocative advertisements that go head-to-head with IBM.  Larry seemed pretty amused with himself; I gotta admit that all of us i the crowd were amused, too.

He delivered the goods: a nice set of slides that visually showed Sun / Oracle's benchmark results with the TPC-C database benchmark is a good deal better than IBM's result.  We're not just faster; we also use much less space and power, and we're cheaper as well.  Cool slides; I can't wait to see the final ad, which Larry said would be this week in the Wall Street Journal.

Larry talked a lot about the huge difference in power consumption between the IBM and Sun / Oracle results; Sun / Oracle have a huge advantage in power per transaction.  I liked the joke he made; he said "Sun's processors are called SPARC for a reason; it's an acronym.  IBM's processors are called we know why."  (laughter ensued)

At one point, Scott called John Fowler on stage to talk about our systems, and to hear John announce that we have 7 world record benchmarks to announce at the show for nearly every major enterprise benchmark that matters.  It was a little weird seeing Fowler be as serious as he is; actually, he tried joking some, but the venue is just too big for anybody to do comedy other than a professional.

The main thing I took away from the keynote?  Game on, people!  This is going to be a kick-the-competition-in-the-teeth kind of world.  We are going to go straight in the face of IBM; Larry clearly signaled that, if you didn't already know.  And I think the competition is going to be a lot of fun.  High pressure for sure, but a lot of fun.

Here's a photo of us cattle leaving the opening keynote.  The place was packed.

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Tuesday Sep 29, 2009

The case for Oracle being the next big virtualization player

I found this piece an interesting take on Oracle's potential to be the next big player in the virtualization space.  The piece both points out Oracle's huge potential (after the Sun acquisition completes) and some current obstacles Oracle would have to overcome.

I agree with the article, that if Oracle wishes, it can become the dominant player in the space, even more so than VMware.  I suppose it depends on whether this is an important market for Oracle to win or not.

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Friday Aug 14, 2009

Terracotta on Sun's CMT and x64 Solaris servers

In our ISV Engineering organization, we do some pretty cool work with a variety of software companies built around open source business models; here are just a few of our more strategic open source partners.  This week, we published some work we've been doing with Terracotta for the last few months to help them optimize their technology on Sun's products.  The 4-page document provides an overview of the business benefits of Terracotta for Java developers, plus some results of testing we did with Terracotta on both x64 and CMT servers.  We also ran their same tests on RedHat Enterprise Linux to see how we did.  We did great.

I really like what Terracotta's done; my overly-simplistic explanation of what they do is to hook into a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and link it with other JVMs working together, so that a cluster of JVMs look like a single, big JVM to the Java developer.  The significance is this: if you're a Java developer and you want to easily scale up your application so it can take on more load, Terracotta makes it really easy for you to do that.

In the document that we published, we showed the results of tests we did with sample workloads that Terracotta created to demonstrate what it can do for some common Java application scenarios.  (one scenario models an online test-taking application where many people login concurrently to take their tests, maybe leave the test midway through, come back where they left off, etc.)  If you look at the results table, you'll see a couple of results that I find interesting:
  1. Performance of Terracotta on Solaris vs. RedHat.  Everything else was the same: same JVM, same physical hardware.  But Terracotta on Solaris performed much better, making more efficient use of the compute resources.  You leave less of your computing budget on the table with Terracotta on Solaris, is what this says to me.
  2. Terracotta performance on CMT.  On the T5240 CoolThreads server, we didn't get the top result, but we had plenty of headroom to go (using 9% of the CPU resource available), which means we could launch more copies of Terracotta, or the Java application itself.  Our tests with Terracotta show us we can use CMT to get massive scaling; the results table clearly reflects that.
Once we started scaling up with Terracotta on CMT, we started to notice that their persistence mechanism was becoming a bottleneck (if you read more about Terracotta, you find that they make your cluster of JVMs reliable because Terracotta keeps track of Java objects that change, and persists those changes to its local disk).  So we introduced Terracotta to our solid state disk (SSD) products and configured the Terracotta server to persist its data to the SSDs instead of spinning disk.  That essentially gave us reliability at in-memory speeds which means that you don't have to make the tradeoff of performance vs. reliability.  It's very cool.

We've had a blast working with Terracotta; they're sharp people, and they create a product that I think is hugely valuable to Java developers, especially those trying to write apps that work at large scales on the web.  If you're such a developer, you should check them out.  Their software is available as open source and it works.

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Thursday Jul 16, 2009

Snapcasting the Sun Stockholders Meeting

Today was a special meeting of Sun stockholders.  The question on the table: whether to approve the merger whereby Oracle acquires Sun.

I decided to "snapcast" the event live, using a free web-based application call G-Snap!  I've blogged about g-snap! before but in the last few months they've done a fair amount of improvement to the interface.  It's really slick and full-featured now.

Click here to view the event log for the snapcast, so you can see what I typed and the comments people made.  Password: sunvote.

There was good news and bad news about the snapcast.  The good news: over 50 people joined the event with only about 30 minutes' notice, and the interface worked like a charm.  I was able to upload photos to the event live, so people could see what the auditorium looked like, the meeting agenda, and a bomb-sniffing dog outside the premises.

The bad news: I was approached by an official in the auditorium who nicely instructed me to turn off my computer during the meeting.  I was assured the meeting would be brief, and indeed it was.  Total elapsed time: about 8 minutes.

Nonetheless, I came away from the event eager to try G-Snap! again for something like this.  I thought of using my twitter account to tweet as the event went along, but I would have lost the sense of community.  By snapcasting, I was able to send live updates just as I would with twitter, but I also had the benefit of others being able to "tweet" live as well, bringing everybody together.  It's a lot more cumbersome to try to arrange that via twitter, but with G-Snap! it was trivially easy to do.

Maybe the Oracle stockholders meetings will allow photos and live blogging.  We'll have to see about that.

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Tuesday Jul 14, 2009

A podcast about open source: FLOSS Weekly

I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually when during my runs or while I'm driving.  One of the podcasts I've been listening to over the past few years is This Week in Tech (TWiT), hosted by Leo Laporte.

Well, he's got a network of podcasts on the TWiT Network and I recently found a new one that I think is pretty good: FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software).  It's a weekly show in an interview format; each episode is about a different open source topic or person.

Recently, FLOSS interviewed Sun's own Glynn Foster to discuss OpenSolaris.  Not a bad introduction to OpenSolaris if you haven't checked it out yet.

Another Sun-related FLOSS Weekly is the ZFS podcast.

I also enjoyed the interview with Jono Bacon of Canonical; it looks like there are plenty of other FLOSS episodes worth a listen.

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Monday Jul 13, 2009

SuperNAP: a crazy huge, modern datacenter in Vegas

I just saw this short video talking about how Sun's cloud computing platform lives at a fascinating datacenter called the SuperNAP in Las Vegas.

Maybe you've just read that sentence and asked yourself two questions:
  1. "fascinating" and "datacenter" in the same sentence?  Dude, you've pegged the nerd-meter at 100.  What happened to you?
  2. A datacenter in Vegas?  I thought datacenters try to keep machines cool, not toasty.
Well, the story about how Switch Communications keeps the SuperNAP cool is actually pretty interesting; here is their own video that talks about it.  And here's a story from The Register talking about the SuperNAP as well.

And Vegas had me scratching my head as well, but it turns out that many of the big Internet carriers have endpoints in Vegas.  So if you have a datacenter that sits where all those endpoints meet, you have the opportunity to offer huge bandwidth at great prices to your customers.  That's what the Switch people do.

Check it out; it's actually pretty interesting reading and watching.

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Thursday May 21, 2009

Compiling ffmpeg on OpenSolaris

Here's something I don't understand: I'm trying to compile the open source program "ffmpeg", useful for transcoding from one kind of movie file and video encoding format to another, plus a whole big bag-o-tricks.

So I download the source code:
svn checkout svn:// ffmpeg
Then I go into the ffmpeg source directory and type "./configure".  It fails, reporting:

BEGIN /tmp/ffconf.XXRJaOkG.c
   1   #include <signal.h>
   2   static void sighandler(int sig){
   3       raise(SIGTERM);
   4   }
   5   int main(void){
   6       signal(SIGILL, sighandler);
   7       signal(SIGFPE, sighandler);
   8       signal(SIGSEGV, sighandler);
   9   #ifdef SIGBUS
  10       signal(SIGBUS, sighandler);
  11   #endif
  12       {     volatile int i=0;
  13       __asm__ volatile (
  14           "xorl %%ebp, %%ebp"
  15       ::: "%ebp");
  16       return i; }
  17   }
END /tmp/ffconf.XXRJaOkG.c
gcc -D_ISOC99_SOURCE -D_POSIX_C_SOURCE=200112 -std=c99
-fomit-frame-pointer -c -o /tmp/ffconf.XXYJaalG.o
gcc -o /tmp/ffconf.XXTJaWkG /tmp/ffconf.XXYJaalG.o
./configure: line 663: 16530: Terminated

I can't tell why it fails even making a Makefile, but after scanning the web for a while, I find a suggestion that says "use bash as your shell instead of whatever shell you were using."  I had been using tcsh, then tried ksh, then tried sh, all with the same error result.

So then I try "bash configure".  What do you know?  It created a Makefile just fine.

Now why is that?  Can somebody help me out here?  Because I don't know why the choice of a shell would make the configure script succeed or fail.  And that seems bad for the other shells available on OpenSolaris.

The app seems to compile, mostly.  Next: see how much of the app got compiled and how much of it runs.

Why am I doing this?  Because it's part of "pyTiVo", which I'd like to get running on my OpenSolaris home media server, so that I can back up the TiVo's content onto this nice, ZFS-enabled server.  I'll update my progress here.

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Wednesday Apr 29, 2009

Coolest use I've seen yet for VirtualBox

Palm's new WebOS running the new Pre phone emulator inside VirtualBox, running on Mac OS X, courtesy of Engadget.


Sunday Mar 15, 2009

VirtualBox bug fixed: clonehd works in version 2.1.4

Not too long ago, I blogged about a workaround to a bug in VirtualBox.  The problem is fixed in VirtualBox version 2.1.4, available for download here.

Here's where the bug fix comes in handy: suppose you use VirtualBox to create a virtual machine that you want to use again and again; maybe it's a test environment of Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris...whatever you like.  An easy way to make copies of that test environment is to type "VBoxManage clonevdi WindowsXP.vdi copyOfWinXP.vdi" (or whatever you call your VirtualBox hard disk images).  But the "clonevdi" command wasn't making copies correctly, so there was a workaround.  It's not a big deal, but having the bug fixed makes it just that much easier to make perfect copies of the environment you worked so hard to create.

I discovered at DrupalCon that a lot of people are using VirtualBox.  I have been a faithful VMware user for well over five years and have liked it, but I've also been using VirtualBox for about six months now and I find it good enough for my personal needs that I've switched from VMware to VirtualBox.  One nice little benefit: it can be a host on all the operating systems I use (Ubuntu Linux, Mac OS X, OpenSolaris; I tend not to use Windows as a host OS, only as a guest, because I'm too concerned about viruses infecting my Windows environment and I'd like to be able to just blow it away and start from scratch easily; VirtualBox lets me do just that).

Thursday Mar 05, 2009

Notes from DrupalCon 2009, Day One

I'm in Washington DC for the DrupalCon 2009 conference.  Drupal, for those not familiar with the technology, is an open source content management system (CMS) built using the PHP programming language.  If that explanation doesn't help, think of it this way: lots of people use Drupal to build web sites.  I mean, lots of people.  For example, the Obama administration's web site is using Drupal.  And during the conference, I've talked to online newspaper sites and people who built web sites for the major music labels (e.g., Warner Music, Sony, others) and they use Drupal to build their web sites.  The popularity and growth of Drupal is astounding.  You can feel it at the convention center here.

I'm here to learn more about the Drupal community: I intend to learn more about the big problems the community wants to address, their main customer pain points, the technical and non-technical problems they face, how the community works...and ultimately, how Sun can play an important role in the Drupal community.

Sun has a table at DrupalCon, and we're getting a lot more people stopping by the table to talk to us than in previous conferences I've been at.  It's a great opportunity for us to learn what people want, and how (or whether) we can help.  Lots of people use MySQL, and they pretty much all seem to be aware that Sun purchased MySQL.  I was a bit surprised at how many people use VirtualBox, but not everybody knew that It's a Sun product.  (so we're telling them, and hearing how they use VBox).  General feedback I hear from visitors is that they are glad to see Sun showing support for the Drupal community and for open source in general.  I wouldn't say people are rushing to our table, but generally when we ask them questions, they happily stay and talk with us about what they're doing.

Here is what I'm learning so far about why Drupal is so successful: it is simple to extend, by design.  (built in PHP, you can get up-to-speed on how Drupal is built pretty quickly and the barriers to you contributing something new are reasonably low)  You don't have to contribute code to the core part of Drupal; you can create your own "module" to add new features, or you can contribute themes to help others' web sites look cool.  These are lower-risk ways of including the maximum number of people to add to Drupal, and they do.  Drupal really wants a lot of people to contribute, and they make it pretty easy to do it.

Also, Drupal is simple to get running; you can have a simple web site running in less than an hour, and you don't have to be a database administrator or a developer to do it.

There is a commercial entity formed by Drupal's founder, Dries Buytaert.  That commercial entity, called Acquia, contributes a lot to Drupal but they take steps not to try to assert too much control over Drupal.  In fact, of all the committers to the Drupal core, only one works at Acquia (Dries).

Time and time again I have heard from Drupal fans that they see Dries spending a lot of time and energy to make the community open and welcoming; getting people to contribute appears to be a cornerstone of Drupal's direction.  I've talked to a lot of people building web sites and asked them why they're at DrupalCon; many of them say they're looking for people to hire, and they use Drupal because it's easy to find developers who already know Drupal.  It's your classic developer play: Drupal succeeds in part because they have a larger developer base than competing open source CMSs like Joomla! or Wordpress.  I like this aspect because it shows the payoff of spending enormous energy in opening your community; the payoff is a huge ecosystem of features and add-ons, and an army of Drupal-trained workforce that makes it easy for customers to get somebody to build their websites in Drupal for a good price.

I installed Drupal on my OpenSolaris distro, running inside VBox on my MacBook Pro.  It took about 20 minutes from start to finish, including the time to download the software, unpack it, read the instructions, activate the WebStack components (MySQL, Apache), and configure the database for Drupal to get going.  If I were to do it again, it would take me about 10 minutes to get Drupal going, maybe 5.

Two main themes I'm hearing about what's important to work on for Drupal: simplicity, and performance.  Simplicity seems to be the much bigger issue, because Drupal is trying to expand its community by an order of magnitude.  They made it easy for PHP developers to contribute and build web sites, but they want to attract people who don't want to learn PHP.  Maybe these people know a little HTML, maybe a little CSS, but not PHP.  Drupal has to make things even simpler to create web sites with interesting content.  Anything to make it easier to install, configure, and run Drupal with a usable set of modules is a huge benefit to the Drupal community.

Performance seems to be not quiet as important, but still plenty worth talking about.  For smaller sites that don't get a lot of concurrent users hitting their web sites, performance of Drupal and the underlying software stack on a single server is plenty fine.  But when the web site starts to grow its audience, performance issues start to come into play, and I think there's a lot that Sun can do if we can show that we understand how to optimize performance on the whole software and hardware stack, from Drupal on down to the server.  I believe we can do that, and more: Sun has some interesting technology to make snapshots and test environments quick, easy, and reliable to do (ZFS comes into play here).  And we have a great tool for observing performance of Drupal sites live, in deployment (DTrace).  These are not for everybody -- I hear a lot of people saying they don't want to spend their time learning how to do detailed performance tuning, they'd rather spend their time getting web sites live -- but I think that people who see these tools at our BOF on Friday will see how these tools can be a real help.

One nice thing they're doing at the conference is the use of Twitter as a public address system: follow the twitter user "drupalcon" and you get updates about where lunch is being served, parties happening after hours, reporting on status of wi-fi downtime (mostly wireless access has been great, but when it goes down, the DrupalCon people tweet about it right away and ask people to tweet back saying where they find dead spots).  When slides get posted to web sites, it's announced on twitter.  Same with videos of the talks.  Somebody lost a phone; drupalcon tweeted a lost-and-found message.  It's a great use of Twitter.

I'll leave this entry with a quote from the opening keynote.  It was attributed to Clay Shirky, to represent the approach of the Drupal community: "Replace planning with coordination".  Simple example: going to lunch as a group.  Before cell phones, if you want to go to lunch as a group you have to talk about it before-hand and plan where you're going to go, because communication is complicated in a group.  With web-enabled cell phones, you can call, text, or tweet your mates in real time, coordinating what you're doing right then.  Interesting approach; I'd say it's a good summary of the open source way of doing things that I've seen in my own career working with open source.

More soon; the conference is a firehose, and I'm having a blast drinking from it.

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Friday Oct 10, 2008

Using ScribeFire with Roller blogging software

(this blog entry is a note-to-self kind of a thing.)

I've been using a cool Firefox browser extension called ScribeFire to write my blog entries; I like it because it's easy to write the blog entry without having to worry about writing HTML markup, and it makes it easy for you to post the blog entry to just about any kind of blogging software you want.  I usually write to my blog, which runs the Roller blogging software.

That's all good, but recently I couldn't post new blog entries with ScribeFire and I couldn't figure out why.  I'd go back into the Account Wizard, where you tell ScribeFire about your blog, including username and password.  But it kept failing on my username and password, and I was absolutely sure I had those correct.

Well, I finally figured out what I was doing wrong.  This will certainly apply to Sun employees but it may apply to others out there using Roller blogging servers.  Here's what I needed to do:

  • Log into (my blogging site); recently, we switched our authentication mechanism to something all Sun employees know.
  • under the "Actions" section there is a choice labeled "Edit user profile"; click on that.
  • Choose a "Weblog Client API Password", which is different from the password you used to log into  This password is what ScribeFire will use when it tries to post a blog entry for you, so you need to tell what to expect for a password.  Confirm the password and save.
There you go.  Now you can go into ScribeFire and update your settings.  Here's how I set mine:
  • Open ScribeFire and click on the "Add" button under the Blogs tab; this launches the ScribeFire Account Wizard;
  • my blog's url is ""; enter yours and Continue;
  • Click the Configure Manually button that appears next;
  • Select "MetaWeblog API" as the blog system type (I don't know why not "Roller"; just trust me here);
  • for the API URL, type "";
  • for the Username and Password, use your username and the password you entered as the Weblog Client API Password above;
That should do it.  Now you can blog with Scribefire, which should make blogging easier and more fun overall.

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Friday Sep 12, 2008

Sun Ray / VOIP In One Piece of Hardware

There's a company called Mitel that makes unified communications products.  Sun and Mitel recently came out with a webcast that shows this cool product called the Mitel Unified IP Client for Sun Ray.

Check out the webcast, but for me the coolest part was around 13:20 into the cast when they show one of these Mitel phones that has a Sun Ray built into it!  It was cool: you just slide your Java Card into the slot at the bottom of the phone cradle, and the phone's display shows your info, and the monitor connected to the phone shows your Sun Ray session.  Plus, the phone itself has a wireless handset so you can walk up to 1000 feet away from the phone cradle.

Pretty cool stuff; it makes me want one.

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle. What more do you need to know, really?


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