Solaris, seriously

Seen this one before?

Bet you have!

Ever since the acquisition has closed, many end-users, customers and some industry analysts have registered their expressions of angst toward figuring out exactly what WILL Oracle's OS strategy shape up to be ? If the previous Sun/Oracle welcome events held globally, or numerous webcasts with Oracle executives and public statements that have been made by them are of any indication, followed by the progress that is being made since the acquisition had first been announced, then it would appear to be self-evident that things are looking really good, and that the OS strategy is comprised of 2 operating systems: Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle Solaris, each of which have registered their place in the appliance segment of the market.   Having just
completed yet another whirlwind set of meetings with some of our key financial customers across the country, I see a number of parallels in terms of common challenges being faced by them: aggresive strides toward power consumption reduction, whilst facing the need to consolidate diverse workloads, all while handling datacenter moves/consolidations from coast to coast (this is happenging globally, as we have learned  European banks are facing similar types of problems). We like to think of these as opportunities. 

All of this brings about questions of 3-5 year investment roadmaps, OS strategy and platform decisions that come up for review only so often - and the eye is really laser focused on what Oracle is doing with Sun's assetts, as well as what Oracle is doing in terms of delivering on the integration of the stack benefits ala database appliance, network attached storage appliance, and others in the works.  I did manage to squeeze in a few recaps of some of the highlights from recent World Cup matches; enough to make me wonder whether FIFA can begin to accelerate its acceptance of the notion of appliances and leveraging available technology to avoid repeating judgement mistakes (see my November 2009 blog entry about FIFA's lack of using technology for the benefit of sportsmanship and accuracy) - just this past week we witnessed 2 more World Cup matches falling victim to errors made on the field (Argentina vs. Mexico and England vs. Germany). 

When it comes to our "playing field", however, things aren't always cookie-cutter - or at least they ought to be looked at through a chronological lens, exercising restraint in jumping to judgements whilst taking into account the order of events having taken place over the past few years.  Without pretending to be an oracle, I would like to offer some thoughts on, what a general investor would consider to be, an important set of avenues that lie ahead for operating systems.  In the mid-90's, Oracle and Sun had gone separate ways in their strategy. Sun went on to focus exclusively on SPARC (practically abandoning most of the x86-specific bits in Solaris development) and Oracle went on, almost orthogonally, to leverage the commodity platforms available to run its business software with better price/performance ratios.  It made business sense where and when it did. Moreover, for Oracle,  it clearly wasn't enough to simply rely and depend on the OS variants being made available by open-source OS suppliers so Oracle differentiated itself by (1) innovating with Oracle Enterprise Linux, adding the necessary and unique ingredients to linux, giving back to the community where the community would take it -  to ensure that Oracle's customers choosing Oracle software would benefit by having it run (function and perform) better on Oracle's distribution of linux - AND - (2) creating a solid, enterprise-grade support system known as Oracle Unbreakable Linux.  Henceforth one can begin to see the idea of datacenter appliances beginning to emerge:  Oracle software, Oracle operating system - not as a full/complete stack (yet), but the foundation and business benefits were clearly there! One of the challenges that this approach brings about is the notion of ownership and control (think as an investor now, if operating systems are an asset (and they are) where are you likely to get the most benefit from your assets: when you own them, or when you control them - or both?).
Now, I'll admit that things aren't always "black and white" and that there're a few other ingredients that make for a tasty recipe - such as decisions, budgets, changes in ther market demands, time lines, etc. Here's one way to see what OS makes sense for your business challenges: OEL is owned by Oracle, but because its based on (and tracks) RHEL,  effectively it is not really
controlled by Oracle.   

Fast forward to 2010 - Oracle buys Sun Microsystems - and obtains ownership and control of the Solaris ecosystem - an operating system that Sun had continued to innovate  (even though there were elements of defocus from commodity platform support in the mid-90's, Solaris 8 had been the last Solaris distribution available for x86), it didn't take Sun engineers too long to realize, and ramp up support for, Solaris on x86 platforms with the release of Solaris 10. The key fact that needs to be pointed out to those who may not appreciate this, is that Solaris is derived from the same source tree that OpenSolaris comes from and is (roughly)
95% the same across all platforms it runs on: Intel/AMD/SPARC/virtual machines/hypervisors - etc. - the small differences reside in the low level architecture and driver implementation differences (or elements of paravirtualization, as is the case in VMs).  Further on deriving bits from the Solaris source tree - the notion of storage appliances begins to get productised by Sun - brought to life by the same engineers that brought (and continue to enhance) DTrace - in the form of a network attached storage appliance (hint: DTrace, itself, came about as a solution to the whole notion of making it easier to troubleshoot systems wholistically, by asking questions of the system and formulating a hypothesis that leads you down the path of understanding systems better, thus reducing the time it takes you to get to the resolution of your problem).   Sun had started building appliances even prior to that.  Have you heard of the desktop appliance ala Sun Ray and the business benefits it gets its users in terms of desktop security, mobility and reduction of licensing and desktop power consumption ? (Yep, we've got Banks, Telco's, Universities, and other industries using these devices to save money).  And while Oracle had begun building appliances, in parallel, with its Exadata machine, Sun and Oracle continued to leverage their strengths - and now these strengths are working cross-organizationally, accelerating development and value to clients.  Sun brought Java, Hardware, Solaris to Oracle's existing portfolio of business software. So - putting our investment cap back on: Oracle now owns and controls Solaris and hardware systems.  Oracle has talked about investing in these MORE then Sun had - have a look at Oracle's job postings, particularly in TX!  See some of the recent benchmarks and, before you bait and switch away from Solaris "just because everyone claims its the good-enough thing to do" (and in certain few ISV-led cases it might be today - as an artifact of where Sun had been).  But, don't judge Sun on where it had been, but rather where it is now and where Oracle is taking it; pause and ask yourself whether taking that turn makes sense for you today and, if you do take it, whether it will continue to make sense for you tomorrow.  Solaris has a few of its gaps and those are being addressed; there is intent and accelerated development to ensure that, over time, the availability of software portfolio for Solaris is on par (where it may not be today) - and that the software portfolio is a 1st class citizen of Solaris, that the stack gets integrated in a performant manner with Solaris; and elements that go into making it better for middleware or databases will also benefit other 3rd party and open-source workloads as well...and that it will continue to give you the rich platform choice, continuing to be the world's #1 enterprise OS that lends itself to Very Many flavours of situational computing out there.  Would love to hear your thoughts, your successes or challenges.

I look forward to seeing you at Oracle OpenWorld 2010 in San Francisco this September! Duncan Hardie,  Jeff Victor and I are
hosting a session on the 21st of September, title of which is "Optimize Legacy/Modern Application Environments with Oracle Solaris Containers" (part of "Oracle Solaris" track) at 2pm in Moscone South, Room 301

'till then!


Let me inject some harsh realities. To a first approximation, benchmarks are tests of the
hardware. Operating systems and applications make only a small contribution to performance.
Benchmarks neither validate or invalidate Solaris.

Solaris is a technically superior operating system. That's why I like it. To be successful,
it requires R&D, innovation, wide distribution and community support. Restricting it to
Oracle hardware with Oracle licences will cause it to fade away very quickly.

Posted by Gary Mills on June 30, 2010 at 01:51 AM EDT #

This point has been made clear. There is support for Solaris on
3rd party x86/x64 systems via OEM agreements that had been put in place by Sun and HP, DELL, IBM.

Posted by Isaac on June 30, 2010 at 02:22 AM EDT #

Isaac, this is very interesting. When I asked about 3rd-party support at our local Welcome event, the official answer was "we don't know, but we'll get back to you". That was two months ago. Then we entered this new quiet period.

Since then, I have received no update, despite asking. If 3rd-party hardware is now officially allowed, then it must be announced widely. Must. I frequently hear the response "just ask your local sales team", but this simply does not get results.

Just announce it on the front page, where everybody can see it. Please. I may know what's going on, but the people who matter see only that their calls are not returned, not even when it would greatly benefit their quarter.

Posted by Craig S. Bell on June 30, 2010 at 05:56 AM EDT #

So you're saying that the below linked article is false and Oracle still support HP?

Seems pretty clear to me that Oracle is trying to be more like HP & IBM Unix systems (which only run on their own hardware).
I agree with Gary that this is a monstrous mistake.

Sun may not have been doing well from a market standpoint, but they absolutely dominated the market for Unix systems (not counting generic Linux platforms). By restricting use, they're handing market over to Linux systems (however inferior they may be to the incredibly advanced features in Solaris 10).

Posted by Kevin on July 02, 2010 at 10:52 AM EDT #

I wish Oracle would come forward and clearly state that OpenSolaris as an open source project is out of its OS strategy. Right now OpenSolaris is like a missing person which the body hasn't been found yet: people are keeping their hope alive but, at the same time, wondering if it's time to move on.

Posted by Giovanni on July 12, 2010 at 04:53 AM EDT #

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Isaac Rozenfeld has been a Principal Product Manager for Oracle Solaris; responsibilities have included bettering the portfolio of networking and installation technologies - all with a focus on easing application deployments

You can follow Isaac on Twitter @izfromsun


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