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What Sun Should Do

Tim Bray has an interesting post titled What Sun Should Do where he lists some suggestions. I have been thinking about Sun for a while and how my own image of the company has changed over the years. A long time ago I was working for Cambridge Technology Partners (later acquired by Novell). We did a lot of interesting projects, some of which were deployed on Sun hardware. At that time (around ’97-’98) my image of Sun was that it was a huge company selling huge hardware at huge prices.

That image stuck with me (and a lot of other people I guess). But interesting things have happened over the years that changed how I think about Sun:

  1. Bad: At one point I got the impression that Sun wanted Java on pretty much any platform you could think of. We were supposed to have java on the desktop, server, mobile phone, client, backend, both country and western as Mark Pilgrim would have put it. The Swing based GUIs really didn’t help the user experience in the early days.
  2. Good: Someone sent me an email sometime in 2005 saying that Sun was going to let people borrow a T2000 server for free. I checked prices and even though it was expensive compared to a grey box it was a major dent in the Sun-is-expensive image I had had previously. I know other people were talking about this as well even though we mainly did business consulting at the time. Must have been a marketing genious that came up with that plan. I didn’t even work with hardware and I still remember the campaign!
  3. Good: Sun open sourced Solaris. This was a major one. I downloaded the DVD image files as soon as they became available. I know a lof of other people who did this as well. Never used it since even though I have looked for it.
  4. Good: Zones. At one point I believe everyone I knew wanted to set up their own hosting business selling zones to Rails and PHP developers. Noone did. I don’t know why, but Linux virtualization was beginning to increase market share. Having tried both Xen and Zones, Zones felt a lot better. But everyone is selling Linux-based virtualization with Linux-based OSs anyhow (try filtering for Solaris in the list). Why?
  5. Good: And now the storage thing. Having seen the bill from a government agency for their current storage solution I am beginning to think that Sun storage will have a huge impact.
  6. Good: Glassfish. I know a lof of people doing Rails development and many are starting deployment on a tiny Linux VPS and then move it to a Glassfish instance once income is increasing.

So, in the end I guess Sun isn’t that enormous massively over priced giant anymore. But why aren’t people running their web apps on Sun hardware or on Solaris? I guess one of the reasons is about scaling down. There are many Linux-based VPS providers out there running on cheap hardware. The cost/Mb RAM for a VPS is tiny these days and maybe it is too costly to get even a small Sun server up and running you want to resell capacity.

So, why aren’t everyone using Open Solaris on beige boxes? Beats me. The community seems helpful. Maybe there just isn’t enough tutorials/blog articles about getting Rails, Django and Drupal installed and configured. Maybe it needs a better package system and/or setup tool for the command line?

What do you think?

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  1. Peter,
    I agree with much of your article. I’ve used Solaris for the past 4 years after 7 years with HP-UX. I’ve also used Linux distros (Red Hat/Debian) for the past 10 years. I do have SXCE as a second OS on a multi-boot machine. While I love doing clustering, AVS and zones, I don’t use the Solaris box for my home web/mail server. The default apache2/php that deploys with Solaris needs to be recompiled to be really useful. While I have done it, it is really cumbersome. The Sunfreeware site has a lot of good software, however if they don’t have what you need, compiling your own can be a problem. By problem I mean ‘do I need to use gcc or Sun’s compiler’; ‘which linker do I need to use’, ‘are the dependencies already on the machine’ etc. I think that a Freebsd ports or Macports type packaging system would be ideal. With Red Hat, Debian or even my Mac I can quickly recompile packages to include the options I need. I just dread assembling all of the dependencies and compiling anything special on a Solaris box. I have thought about replacing my web/mail server with Solaris several times, I just can’t get over the ‘hump’ to swap it out. Linux is just too easy.

  2. I have tried to set up a small server based on beige box hardware using OpenSolaris. The support for someone getting into this for the first time was far worse than what I knew from several Linux distributions. Compare the project and support websites of Ubuntu, CentOS or even Gentoo with those for Open Solaris, you’ll find that the latter are just not as comprehensive and helpful.

    Then, there was the issue of what distribution to choose. I could not find any one that promised as much stability and professional management as an “enterprisey” Linux distribution (does anyone remember the Blastwave kindergarten?), and hence decided it was not worth the effort of looking further into it.

    Of course, I expect Open Solaris itself to be a stable and mature system. However, it seems to me that it targets professional admins with a lot of time for the maintenance of their systems. This is not necessarily the profile of an admin of Linux-based beige boxes.

  3. I think you forgot some important bit in your list:

    7. Bad: Sun Sales is just a PITA. Ever tried to order a Try&Buy yourself? I can tell you that at least in UK and Germany (but I heard it’s the same in other countries) this is just a ridiculous nervebreaking and painful experience. Fill out the application form (and don’t dare you want to have the system sent to a company address if you’re an individual!), and wait forever nothing to happen. The website says sales will contact you within 5 days but it doesn’t. If after some time you’re fed up and ask what’s going on they give useless replies, and of course won’t call back when promised. Ever tried to buy anything from them? Even a simple keyboard requires you to request a quote from sales which takes almost four weeks to be sent out, and of course it states the exact same price like the website. I have dealed with a lot of companies (HP, Dell, FSC, IBM, SGI) and Sun by far has the worst sales droids ever.

    As to why people use more Linux than Solaris on white boxes, it’s probably the hype. Sun never managed to create a big enough fuzz outside the informed and geek community about Solaris, what it can and that it’s free.

    @Rastloser: it should be obvious that OpenSolaris doesn’t have the support of Ubuntu and other Linux distros, just look how young OpenSolaris is. It’s somewhat silly to compare OpenSolaris with an Enterprise Linux, if you need enterprise-class stability then the proven and fully supported Solaris 10 (which is free, too) is the way to go. And Solaris does have a huge and active community which is comparable with the most common Linux distro communities.