Solaris 10 Lift-off Event Set for Nov. 15

The countdown to Solaris 10, and notably Sun's first Open Source release of its core operating system, has officially begun. Sun execs confirm formal briefings on Solaris 10 will be held Nov. 15. In the meantime, Integration Developer News gets the latest insights from Jack O'Brien, Sun's Group Manager, x86 and Operating Systems.

Tags: Open Source, Solaris, Sun, Community, License, Open Source Project, Technology,

The countdown to Solaris 10, and notably Sun's first Open Source release of its core operating system, has officially begun. Sun execs confirm formal briefings will be held Nov. 15.

In the meantime, Integration Developer News gets the latest insights from Jack O'Brien, Sun's Group Manager, x86 and Operating Systems, who speaks to us about Sun's goals for a Solaris Open Source community, and what it has learned to do (and not do) from other commercial-turned Open Source projects from such firms as IBM, BEA and others

IDN Interview with Jack O'Brien,
Group Manager x86 and Operating Systems
Sun Microsystems

IDN: How important is the rollout of Solaris 10 for Sun?

O'Brien: It doesn't get any bigger than that for us. This is it for Sun. This has been the major focus of 2004, and there's just so much new content and technology that we felt it was important to take a year to get it out to everybody. And, clearly next year is going to be all about going to market in a big, big way. We have over 500,000 installations of Solaris 10 running worldwide, so this is going to be the most aggressive and fastest product ramp we've ever had.

IDN: What are the elements of Solaris 10 that have caught the most attention?

O'Brien: The ones that have really gotten the attention of customers is the Dtrace tool, for analysis and performance, the N1 Grid container solution for grid partitioning and workload management, the new file system out of ZFS, with flexibility for managing storage and the combination of resource manager and storage manager and file system, and predictive self-healing technologies.

IDN: What types of customers seem to be the most interested? Is there a "profile" of the type of projects most suitable for Solaris 10, such as a distributed meshed network or fabric?

O'Brien: Yes, all of this fits into the grid-connected data center as that evolves. But for now, we're judt in the business of providing a platform that they can run their business on.

IDN: What customers that you speak with are most interested in Open Source Solaris?

O'Brien:: We're talking to lots of audiences. The topic of Open Sourcing Solaris has generated a lot of excitement because it's an unprecedented event: just absolutely phenomenally advanced technology in an operating system that has been developed over the last 20 years with capabilities that don't exist in other OSes out there. We're embarking on an Open Source project of unprecedented scale.

IDN: What do you mean by that?

O'Brien: We're talking about thousands of lines of code over 20 years of development. We're actually in the process right now of counting up just how many man-decades of engineering effort and R&D have gone into getting Solaris where it is today.

IDN: Can you describe architecturally which elements are up for Open Source, and which ones won't or shouldn't be?

O'Brien: Our philosophy on this is we want to be as open as possible. We don't want to just adhere to the letter of "open licensing," but adhere to the spirit of "open," as well.

IDN: Have you decided what that "open licensing" means?

O'Brien: Yes we have. But if you're asking me: "Am I going to tell you what the license is?" he answer is "no." What that means to us is: We don't want to hold anything back from the community being as vibrant and growing as fast as possible. That means we're not going to hold back technologies; we're not going to hold back any of the new cool [enhancements] coming in Solaris 10, like DTracer or NGrid containers. The only thing we want to avoid is any potential IP issues that would cause any more heartache or noise in the technology industry. There's enough of that going on already.

IDN: Within the last few weeks, a Gartner analyst said the following to Newsfactor about Open Sourcing Solaris: "What will be telling is if Solaris 10 becomes truly Open Source, with a GPL license. A variant of that license that is not quite as open, however, would show that Sun is still being selective." What's your reaction to that?

O'Brien: There are more licenses out there than we can count. Our belief is that a license absolutely has to be OSI approved; those are the guys that make sure you are doing the right thing for the community. That being said, there's a good subset of core licenses that are the most popular. All of them have slightly different aspects that allow you to use code certain ways, and protect certain rights in other ways. And [Sun] is the author of a couple of licenses ourselves.

IDN: All that being said, are there certain goals you have in mind for the type of Open Source licensing you want?

O'Brien: Our business goals are: being as open as possible. Enabling people to modify code and make changes, but also ensure those changes get contributed back to the community. We absolutely want to encourage the evolution of Solaris with innovations from outside, so we want to make sure we can take back contributions from outside of Sun. And we want to make sure that people can use Solaris to create downstream works -- or products.

IDN: So, pulling all that together, Sun faces reaching a balance between IP protection and "open-ing" technology. Can you explain what elements of IP protection Sun is most concerned about?

O'Brien: We have rights in Solaris. We have the right to ship everything we ship with Solaris, and we fully indemnify it. We might not be the owner of a particular piece of code or copyright because we license it from someone else. So, if for some reason, we don't have the right to make a piece of code Open Source, we're going to protect the rights of [the entity] that does.

IDN: Do you have to put all that code through some sort of discovery process?

O'Brien: The term we use is "due diligence." And, our due diligence process is about protecting the IP rights of others.

IDN: Who are the others?

O'Brien: There's a long list of them, and I'm not going to get into that.

IDN: Let's talk only about Sun's technologies. Do you intend to Open Source all those technologies to which Sun has exclusive rights?

O'Brien: Yes. Where we have the right to Open Source something, we're going to do it. One thing I want to make clear: Just because we're going to have the Open Source piece of the overall Solaris offering, we'renot going to tear down anything that exists in the commercial [Solaris] offering. The commercial offering itself will remain a robust, fully certified offering, fully backed by hardware vendors, ISVs and Sun services and support. None of that is going away.

IDN: Understood. Getting back to life after Open Source Solaris: Once you have Open Sourced Solaris, what do you expect to happen in the marketplace or in enterprises that is not happening now?

O'Brien: One: We expect to grow the community size and the number of Solaris developers. We certainly have a large and dedicated group right now, and we just want to attract more people to that. We want to have them feel like they have an ability to influence us, they can come up with ideas that will improve Solaris, contribute code, and overall provide a unique transparency in how we put that OS out on the market. We want them to not just be bystanders.

IDN: Have you met with some of your Solaris community developers?

O'Brien: We've conducted extensive meetings with the Solaris community, as well as the Open Source community in general.

IDN: Did you learn anything from these meetings that you didn't already have planned?

O'Brien: Yes, absolutely. A big part of our [Open Source Solaris] strategy is to empower the developer -- and to empower them, we have to make them feel like they have a level of control.

IDN: So, for example, how will you do this?

O'Brien: All these Open Source communities have a governance process. So [when we announce Open Source Solaris], we'll begin with an initial governance process, just to get started. But, we want the community, not Sun the company, to take ownership for what that governance process looks like.

IDN: Are there models of Open Source governance projects that you like?

O'Brien: Absolutely. Sun has tons of experience on our own on this, with the NetBeans project, the Justa project and OpenOffice. Then there are the Open Source projects outside of Sun's projects, such as Apache, MySQL and Linux. There's a host of experience and examples we can draw from.

IDN: You didn't mention Eclipse. Some would say IBM has had some difficulty in making a complete transition from Eclipse being an IBM project to a full community-driven Open Source project. Should Sun take any insights from what IBM's Eclipse experience with getting non-IBMers to take a bigger role.

O'Brien: I think from a community acceptance standpoint, I think [Eclipse] is still viewed as very IBM-centric; that's an example of how not to involve a community.

IDN: With IBM taking 2-3 years to get more community involvement, what do you take from that?

O'Brien: Sometimes it's less the the letter of the governance than the way you actually behave. I could make all sorts of statements about our intent, but the proof will be in the pudding. So you're going to see us looking to the community to stand up and take leadership roles [in Open Source Solaris].

IDN: In contrast, what steps will you take in the next three (3) months to demonstrate that Open Source Solaris is a totally different approach from other big companies that have tried to Open Source previously- roprietary technology, such as IBM with Eclipse?

O'Brien: I don't want to get into too much detail, but the flavor of it is [involving in governance] some non-Sun people and Open Source people as soon as possible; [many such people] who are close touch with us already.

IDN: So you want an agnostic community for Open Source Solaris as quickly as possible?

O'Brien: Absolutely. We want to do the opposite of just throwing code over the wall.
IDN: Have you given any thought to what the "work-product' of Open Source Solaris might be?

O'Brien: We've given quite a bit of thought to that. There are things that single customers sometimes ask us for that we don't always see the economic return from [building] it, so that's an example. We think that software vendors in general now have a much better way to optimize, tailor and design their software to work with Sun, which will be at lower cost and lower overhead than a closed-source model. This is all about [helping] the Solaris ecosystem in general.

IDN: Let's talk a bit more specifically about the advantages. Can you give a bit more insight on what Sun sees as the big upside of what Open Source Solaris can enable compared to what developers can do now?

O'Brien: If we have a single company with some "outlier" need, and maybe that need is hard to do or there's not a big market for that.Now, they can take ownership of that. That explicitly enhances the capabilities of Solaris, and maybe the market grows around it because it turns out there was a nascent market for it that we just didn't know about.

IDN: So, you expect is an incubation aspect to Open Sourcing Solaris -- even after 20 years of code development?

This is a cultural change, as well. You've had a chance to talk to numerous developers at Sun, like Andy Tucker. He is very involved with out Open Source Solaris plans, so [as we get closer to the announcement and after] spend some time browsing Andy's weblog. .

First, somebody tells you there is this big change coming down, and nobody really explains it to you. So, your first reaction is confusion and maybe a little fear, "Uh-oh. Change is coming," But you have seen firsthand for the enthusiasm they have for the stuff they have created, and they can't wait to show people what they have created. They're proud of their code. And, the cool piece of this is: There are probably some warts in there as well. We're going to show the good with the bad. It would be disingenuous of us to sweep stuff that is less attractive under the covers. But, by and large, these guys can't wait to show people what they've done.

IDN: Was it important for Sun to enforce a quality process for what code submissions get into Solaris?

O'Brien: There still is going to be a quality process when releasing Solaris. You can't just [submit code] even if you're an internal developer here at Sun. Clearly, we [also] have a commercial product here to protect and maintain. Our goal is to make that a community-friendly process.

Look at Linux. There's a lot of the Linux [process] that's just a black box today. We have [gone to school on the Linux process]. We have a lot of Linux engineers here, as well, and we think there's a lot to be improved on there, in terms of transparency. So, even if we don't take something back that was created by the community, we will at least let them know.

IDN: You would like to see a more transparent and more community-driven process for Open Source Solaris' road map and contributions?

O'Brien: Absolutely.

IDN: You mention ISVs and third parties. How likely is it we'll see a Solaris-equivalent to the well-known LAMP stack, and might that be bundled with third-party hardware?

O'Brien: Clearly, Open Source applications are part of how we go to market. We ship all the main Open Source packages and support them all in Solaris today.

IDN: And Sun's growing relationship with AMD… How important is that to early rollout plans for Solaris, both Open Source and commercial?

O'Brien: Absolutely important. We are making joint sales calls, as well as doing joint development, joint programs all that kind of stuff.

IDN: Any final thoughts on the importance to third parties to Solaris?

O'Brien: Just to be clear, the third-party hardware strategy is a huge emphasis, it's a gigantic emphasis. That's the big piece of the market that we're going after. Customers want it because they don't want vendor lock-in. They love playing hardware vendors off each other for price. It gives flexibility to people for both their existing hardware and future purposes. This is a great place where the Open Source project fits in. We have the opportunity to write a driver for us, and so on. It's very big.

At the OEM level, we've signed up 30 OEMs, including 4 of the 5 top [ones] in China, as well as [others] in the U.S.