Saturday, September 20, 2008

Too radical a change?

Attempting to predict the future is difficult, but what I do know about Sun's plans for Solaris and OpenSolaris fills me with concern.

What we seem to be looking at is an OpenSolaris derived replacement for Solaris. Which means a completely replaced packaging system and installer. Being essentially incompatible with what we currently have, this means a fork-lift upgrade: you can't simply go forward as you are before.

Forcing change upon customers is bad. It makes the upgrade a decision point, and customers are then forced to make a choice. So what might customers do? Let's consider some classes of customer:

Solaris-only shops: they have to go from what they have to something different. So given that they have to change, some might take the replacement; I suspect many will choose something different.

Heterogeneous shops: many large shops are heterogeneous, and already support multiple platforms. I see significant resistance to adopting any new platforms, and many shops will simply migrate to one of their existing platforms rather than adopt a new one.

Alien shops: there's going to be problems getting a new platform into a shop that doesn't already use Solaris. Solaris is mature, well tested, has a reasonable number of practitioners available in the job market. An OpenSolaris based platform may be unattractive to such shops: not only would they be unable to bring in expertise for something new, but Sun are advertising it as just the same as Linux, so why would they change to something that isn't different?

So, as I see it, scrapping Solaris and replacing it with a fundamentally different OpenSolaris distribution is going to drive a fraction (possibly quite a large fraction) of the existing Solaris base to other platforms, and I simply can't see any corresponding takeup of new deployments.

Contrast this with the story if you take the existing Solaris and produce a new version (Solaris 11 would be the obvious numbering) that uses the same packaging, installation, deployment, and administration tools as the existing Solaris. In other words, that could be deployed painlessly and seamlessly without any need for additional training or rebuilding new administrative infrastructure, but contains all the advancements that have been made to OpenSolaris in the last 4 years - things such as CIFS client and server, Crossbow, NFS enhancements, and an updated desktop just to name a few. Existing users would simply adopt it as a logical progression; new users would be more attracted because they could concentrate on the technical features and would be able to take advantage of the pool of experience available to deploy it.

The problem is simply one of change. The technical merits of the old and new systems are essentially irrelevant to the discussion. Given how dangerous change is, why is OpenSolaris so insistent on rip and replace rather than improving and enhancing what we already have?


Anonymous said...

improvement is change. Any if it is a "major" improvement, then it is a "radical" change.

Mads said...

I very much agree.
Perverting openolaris into a copy linux project can only end up hurting Solaris.
As a customer, I think it is very bad for the future of the os we base much of our business on to be spending most of its engineering resources on desktops and x86 toys.

milek said...

Peter - I heard that Sun will provide a special zone brand for Solaris 10, like we have for S8 and S9. That should be good enough for most people. It will provide relativelty painless migration with backward compatibility but at the same time it allows to go forward and innovate without having to look back too much.

For some environments migrating from S8 to S10 is treated like a big migration, essentially the same as going to different OS. I work in such an environment and branded zones turned out to be a perfect solution.

Dabbi said...

For some users/companies you might be right but for others you are way off. Considering how easy it is to administrate RHEL5 and Debian based distros, Solaris 10 is simply a nightmare. Companies might see the large difference as a reason to drop Solaris in favor of Linux.

Rich Teer said...

I share your fears, Peter. Making Solaris "just like Linux" is a huge mistake, and is the main reason why I've taken a back seat from the OpenSolaris community for a while.

It all started going downhill shortly after Ian Murdock (of Debian fame) came on board. I don't think this is a coincindence...

I think a key message for Sun's management is this: if I wanted Linux, I'd use Linux. I chose to use Solaris (and by extension, Sun's products) because it is different from Linux. If Solaris is to become YAL (Yet another Linux), why would I pick Solaris?

Anonymous said...


In general most of the Solaris greybeards holds to this mantra (eg. changing sol to be like linux will be dangerous).

The reason solaris *needs* to change is simple; next year there will be less Solaris admins, not more.

Solaris - mainly the current packaging system - is such a far far far inferior product to something like 'apt' (from debian).

Combine this with recent demographics, how many high-schoolers are now running ubuntu? When they get into the job market what will they likely recommend?

For all of linux's faults (and there are several), the fact is getting a random distribution loaded on random hardware to run a random set of applications is about 87 times easier on linux then on solaris at the moment.

Its funny...but WinTel was always touted as the big threat to Solaris (remember NT?). It turns out that the *real* threat came in the form of a scrappy unix-like OS that shamelessly stole as many good ideas it could from the surrounding eco-system.

*That* is exactly what Solaris needs to do. Stop with the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. Recognize that the "Solaris Way" is not always the best way and set yourself up for change, instead of hunkering down and trying to stave off defeat.

Rand said...

I understand your concern and perhaps Sun would consider sharing their plans with the rest of us so we'd not be in the business of trying to predict the future. From what I see, it appears that the OpenSolaris (project Indiana) distribution is the future for the developer community but it is not clear to me what the plans are for the enterprise. Backwards compatibility is much more important here and switching to a whole new model is unappealing. OpenSolaris still has the Express Community edition which is more Solaris 10 like. Will this be the basis of "Solaris Next"? I really don't know.

There are some problems with the current Solaris 10 packaging system. Patching is a nightmare and I can imagine Sun would like to get rid of that headache; on the other hand, they probably still remember the disruption caused by the SunOS 4 -> Solaris 2 transition and I can't imagine they'd want a repeat of that. I would like to know how Sun proposes to address the conflicting concerns of backward compatability and easier maintenance in their Solaris Next release.

Dave said...

The major changes I've seen are to the installation and package/patch process. I've setup a couple of Jumpstart severs for SPARC and Intel Solaris installs. It's an incedible pain, and each time a new Intel machine comes out I have to work around its idiosyncrasies. With Linux this has never been a problem, Kickstart just seems to work.

Sun has to fix this remote install process or people will continue to avoid Solaris as just to difficult to install. You should see our Linux admins cringe when asked to Jumpstart a Solaris x86 machine.

Anonymous said...

You have an excellent point. Consider what happened to Silicon Graphics when they pushed everyone off Irix. Linux ! Linux ! Linux !

Yes, well SGI has been delisted twice since then and gone through one bankruptcy ....