Enterprise Linux Log

Jul 18 2007   3:50PM GMT

OpenSolaris users group to Ian Murdock, Sun: You’re missing the point


President George W. Bush is for all intents and purposes a “lame duck” president. He’s lost his majority and doesn’t really enjoy what people would call the “good graces” of the republic right now. This isn’t a political blog, though, it’s one about Linux and open source software, right?

But it was precisely the idea of a “lame duck president” that I thought of in the wake of last night’s UNIGROUP of New York (a UNIX users group) meeting in Manhattan. Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian Linux and now of Sun Microsystems fame, was the featured guest. The meeting was a joint venture with the NYC OpenSolaris Users Group, and included a “Sun Microsystems tour.” Things did not go well.

So after I started reading and hearing some of the accounts of what happened there last night I started asking myself a question: Is Project Indiana a lame duck before it’s even released?

Here was the agenda, provided to us by SearchEnterpriseLinux.com site expert Ken Milberg:

Topic: Field Trip to Sun Microsystems:
– Joint Meeting with the NYC OpenSolaris User Group
– OpenSolaris Update, New Additions (Solaris Futures)
– Project Indiana
Speakers: Ian Murdock,
Brian Gupta,
Isaac R.,
Sun Microsystems

Before we begin, can you guess which of the topics above generated the most attention? What’s that? Nexenta? It’s a cool OS, I suppose, but if you guessed Project Indiana, you get the prize.

Some background: In March 2007, Sun announced Project Indiana, whose goal is to create an OpenSolaris binary distribution. The long-term objective is to increase the technology’s user base and cultivate mind share. Similar to Red Hat’s Fedora Core and Novell’s openSUSE projects (perhaps too similar — see below, OpenSolaris is Sun’s open source operating system and includes experimental features that might eventually make their way into its commercial Solaris operating system. Analysts said the project is indicative of Sun’s desire to increase awareness of Solaris among Linux-centric IT managers and developers.

But therein lies the rub. Sun must appease existing (and loyal) Sun Solaris users while trying to win over Linux administrators and developers with “Linux-like” features. Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Illuminata, told me that many Sun developers might start to question why they need “Linux junk” in their software when Solaris runs just fine. He was speaking partly in jest, but I think you’ll understand what he’s getting at.

I also think we saw that debate going on in earnest in New York last night.

Apparently, Ian Murdock did not receive the warm welcome he may have hoped for last night. The room held approximately 50 people and a good number of those were OpenSolaris users there from the NYC user group.

One observer said, “What I saw at the OpenSolaris user group meeting was a shock to me. Ian was on the defensive for most of the entire meeting. And it was their own user base that was fighting back!”

Why the angst? We reported on a possible answer to that question last week in the wake of a Reuters article that said Project Indiana might be officially finalized in the very near future. What SearchEnterpriseLinux.com heard from analysts close to Sun was that the company is running a very fine line with Project Indiana. Haff and Ideas International Inc. analyst Tony Iams were both concerned that Sun could end up alienating its existing Solaris base while it tried to please anyone running Linux.

The user’s group meeting last night all but confirmed this was precisely what was happening – at least with OpenSolaris users in NYC anyway. Ken Milberg, Linux site expert and contributor to this blog, said some audience members started to notice that Murdock’s plans for OpenSolaris were starting to resemble Red Hat’s strategy with Fedora. It didn’t gel. “Sun pretty much admitted that this strategy made sense, and more or less were admitting that is was time they starting talking about an ‘innovation strategy’ too,” Milberg said. Thing is, the Sun users kept saying they were already satisfied with OpenSolaris.

And yet Sun and Murdock continued to lay out the case for Project Indiana, to “mixed results,” Milberg said. One unidentified attendee reportedly blurted out “all this does is help Sun, what does this do for someone using Linux?”

It’s a fair question. In our January feature Sun, the begrudging Linux vendor, we took a good look at how much pre-installed Linux makes it out the door on Sun servers. It was a lot, comparatively speaking.

By the end of 2006, approximately 71% of all AMD Galaxy class servers shipped by Sun had Linux pre-installed (IDC). As our headline suggested, I’m sure Sun would love to switch those numbers around in Solaris favor. OpenSolaris, which serves as an incubator for potential future Solaris upgrades, could help that happen. At the time, Sun’s official line was this, provided by Chris Ratcliffe, the former director of Sun Solaris:

“If you take a look at hardware and AMD-based systems, there are three types of OS’s customers are interested in,” Ratcliffe said. Those operating systems are Windows, which Sun does not ship pre-installed; pre-configured Linux; and Solaris. “We prefer they would use Solaris, but at the end of the day our job is to give the customer a choice,” he said.

Coincidence or not, Ratcliffe (voluntarily) left Sun shortly after he spoke with SearchEnterpriseLinux.com for the article. Ian Murdock joined the ranks soon after in a newly created — albeit slightly mysterious — role.

Now, from what I can understand the problem here is that Sun has continued to competitively position itself with Linux users with features like DTrace and ZFS when perhaps they should take a page from the Linux playbook and start siphoning off some Windows market share. (Editor’s Note: Our sister site, SearchDataCenter.com, has several case studies on both technologies, including the account of Betfair, an Internet gambling site, which claims it processes more than three million betting transactions every day and needs DTrace to make sure no hiccups slow them down.)

But attendees last night were not swayed. One attendee pointed out that Linux is way ahead in Xen and KVM virtualization; package management and usability to name a few, and Project Indiana is akin to an OS that already exists: CentOS.

Milberg said the meeting ended with a mixed vibe. “There certainly wasn’t any dancing in the streets. People didn’t seem to understand why they were doing this. It seems Sun can never seem to figure out what they want to be. Do they want to compete with Red Hat Linux? Do they want to compete high end with Solaris on SPARC with AIX or HPUX? They’re fighting on multiple fronts in multiple wars,” he said.

Another observer said it was obvious that Sun had done research with its customer base, and that this is what they believed everyone wanted. “But it’s starting to appear this is what Sun thinks everyone wants, and they’re missing the entire point,” they said.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • Brian
    One thing Ian was very hesitant to talk about last night is the fact that, going forward, it really isn't Enterprise IT that is leading industry spending. (Sun's bread and butter is Enterprise IT.) They realize that they need to attract the Startups, Web shops, and HPC communities that have flocked to Linux, because this groups are currently deploying applications in a method that will become the standard for almost all application deployments within a few short years. OpenSolaris "Indiana" is their attempt to fight Redhat and IBM/Suse for some of this market. We'll see how it goes, but at this point, I think we should start seeing the dropping Solaris numbers start to reverse. (Especially now that Solaris x64 can run in 64-bit mode on a VMWare ESX cluster.) Anyway, I've been saying for the past few years, "Sun is going to survive in spite of themselves." I still believe that, but I think that now we are starting to see a Sun that, for the most part, isn't trying to commit suicide full-time.
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  • James
    Why doesn't sun just relicense these key technologies and then help them get integrated into the existing Linux kernel? Sun would then be well positioned to become the #1 "enterprise" Linux software and hardware vendor. They could eat the Linux lunch's of Red Hat, Novell, IBM and HP combined. Instead, their stubborn resistance to Linux is sending mixed messages and distracting developers and purchasers. Sun needs to swallow their pride and get on board.
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