Musing in the SUN – Set

Now with the EU approval coming the curtains have started coming down on the acquisition soap opera that has been going one for the past year or so. There are still a couple of regulatory approvals pending from Russia and China but the major hurdles have been crossed so that the assimilation process by Oracle can begin in earnest. This is good news for all SUN customers and users as the uncertainities end and roadmaps start to be delivered.

With this a decades long fantastic story of innovation and technical brilliance comes to an end, SUN as we have known it begins to set. Hopefully Oracle will keep the core essence alive and we will continue to see great developments happen on the most popular SUN platforms, Solaris, Java, Systems etc. Hopefully we will continue to see the opensource efforts continue and OpenSolaris community, source bases continuing to flourish.

It is both a time of relief and sadness for me seeing the acquisition process finally moving forward. I am proud to have been among the privileged denizens of the hallowed portals of this great organization. I worked for SUN for 4.5 yrs leaving it in the middle of 2008. Those years were probably the most exciting and fulfilling years of my career that I have had till date and will shine in my memories till the end of my days.

Leaving SUN has been one of the most excruciating decisions I was forced to take till date. It is akin to what an old Oak or Pipul tree might feel if it is transplanted. I was literally torn from my roots. IĀ  still cherish the teams and the people I had worked with. The experience at the SUN workplace was so rewarding for me in a host of ways that I essentially regarded it as my second home. I will probably never get to experience such a fascinating workplace again: amazing people, exciting technology and projects, culture of innovation, work life flexibility, efficacy of people management, lack of hierarchy in perception and behavior of management, boundless opportunity to learn, freedom to define and create your own projects and work boundaries. These were some of the unparalleled qualities that I am yet to see anywhere else. My frustrating experience around lack of recognition of my BeleniX work (that provided the foundation for the OpenSolaris distro), towards the fag end of my SUN career was but a tiny fly in an otherwise spotless ointment.

Many will of course will have their own views and ideas on why SUN failed in spite of having some of the best technology talent in the industry. Since I have experienced the place first hand, let me put down a few pet views of my own:

  • SUN has been and still continues to be the crucible of brilliant technology innovations but it lacked in business acumen and leadership. In this context I came across this thought-provoking article: I am hopeful of the future of the core SUN technologies under Oracle’s business acumen that SUN direly lacked.
  • Pointless acquisitions.
  • The OpenSolaris distro and the way some of the community matters have been handled. While the distro has been great for visibility and adoption I personally fail to see the justification of putting crucial time, money and effort into developing an opensource distro without a proper business model. Why would one put their business and top engineering resources into developing something without a revenue model ? Which enterprise customer will be willing to deploy a software from a development trunk into their data centers where they host business critical applications ? I am hopeful of Oracle here again. SUN customers would really like to lay their hands on Enterprise Solaris 11. Of course an opensource distro is needed so SUN should have followed the Fedora -> RHEL model. Empower the community and let it deal with distro things and focus your business resources in doing, ahem, business. There were efforts out of the community like BeleniX, SchilliX and others that could have fit the bill. Obviously BeleniX being my creation I am biased towards it. However BeleniX indeed provided the full foundation of OpenSolaris distro so it could have evolved, at that time, into the community distro variant like Fedora. However it was ignored after the benefits were extracted.

There are many obvious others I have skipped here. Anyway I am looking forward into the future with an expectation that Oracle can recover the market that Solaris and OpenSolaris lost in recent times. Solaris today is probably the most mature and technically capable OS out there in the wild and it deserves to be more widely adopted than it is today. While people only look at the blockbuster ZFS, Dtrace and Zones stuff, it is really full of compelling technologies that together make it a compelling platform: MDB/KMDB, Proctools, Truss, Apptrace, CTF, Resource Management, CIFS, Seamless Real Time extensions, Crossbow networking, I/O Multipathing, SMF and so on. Joerg Moellenkamp has an excellent brain dump of all these “other” features in his open book “Less Known Solaris Features“.


6 thoughts on “Musing in the SUN – Set

  1. Nick

    Moinak, I agree with the points, especially the third one.

    In my view a distro is a product assembled of diverse components. The OpenSolaris distro seems to have been trying to copy the debian-based model with their IPS system. This is unfortunate, especially, since the model has a critical flaw: lack of a powerful, expressive build system (something along the lines of Arch/Exherbo/FreeBSD package managers). By relying on a bin-only system, they are cutting out the most important kind of users: those that love to tinker and customize, and are most likely to join the ranks of kernel-hackers. They should have provided a base platform, and let the community/communities /evolve/ tools around this platform; meanwhile focus on the monolithic Enterprise Editions that Sun are good at doing. Appealing to the mainstream with a for-pay product is good business, but appealing to the mainstream with a free product is just stupid, since the mainstream don’t know what they want, and will break your heart in the process.


    1. moinakg Post author

      “This is unfortunate, especially, since the model has a critical flaw: lack of a powerful, expressive build system …”
      One of the reasons I understand for this is the way Solaris components are delivered in terms of consolidations of source bases and teams each with their own SDLC, versioning and build systems. It is practically very costly and difficult to drive a standardized build system across these diverse groups. However a standard build system definitely benefits the ports tree. The SFW gate for eg. is a horrendous monolithic morass of tarballs and makefiles. The Contrib repo is a step in the right direction.

  2. a

    Sun’s basic problem is that they delayed updating Solaris for too many years, and so OpenSolaris (as the base for Solaris 11) needs a lot of work to bring it up to a 2005 standard let alone 2010. As for using Belenix as the base instead of OpenSolaris, decisions by Belenix make it unsuitable (gcc as default compiler, KDE, lack of modern package system, etc.). The sad reality that Sun faced (and now Oracle) is despite the technical advantages Solaris has there are too many weaknesses that need to be fixed before it can be competitive enough to bring in the needed new customers who are use to the features that Linux and Windows provide.

    1. moinakg Post author

      Most of the decisions are driven by practical need. The actual contributors are very few working on distro building, testing, UI design, porting hundreds of packages, packaging, installer and so on. We simply do not have resources to spend time on fighting with SUN Studio compiler issues so we take the easy way out. A modern package manager is taking time for the same reason. We do have a functional fast package manager that satisfies all common requirements that I wrote to temporarily fill a gap in about 6months till we move off SVR4. Providing a desktop like KDE should not be a cause for unsuitability since it does not change anything fundamentally. We also build JDS and we actually use SUN Studio for that since the work is already done.

  3. ralph

    hello moinak, I recognize your work on belenix as a major part of how opensolaris came to be

    don’t fret, the world sees

  4. UX-admin

    Sun couldn’t follow the Fedora model: in order to work on Solaris, one must be a top-notch ENGINEER. Solaris does not tolerate random hackery, because historical consumer of Solaris was and is a high-expectations, mission-critical, break-nothing customer.

    Meanwhile, what has happened? A lot of trendy “me toos” that dabbled in GNU/Linux decided to jump ship to OpenSolaris, and caused a sh*tstorm when they realized that they weren’t allowed to just check in their random-hack-works-for-me garbage like they were in GNU/Linux.

    What’s even worse, an even bigger number of “me toos” doesn’t even bring the technical skills and expertise necessary to actually improve Solaris.

    Most of these people are just end-users and consumers, and while that’s nice, at the end of the day, someone who knows WHAT THEY ARE DOING must ARCHITECT, SPEC, DOCUMENT, and WRITE the code.

    Nice to have end-users, but that’s not what Solaris needs right now: a product to get excited about because he’s so good sells himself with just a word of mouth.


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