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Sun Is Missing the Boat

Forgive me for being a Scott McNealy fan, but I really can't help it

Forgive me for being a Scott McNealy fan, but I really can't help it. Scott and the crew at Sun have done a great job over the years producing what I consider to be really good products. Scott has also provided much-needed entertainment in the form of some very quotable quotes (who was there for his presentation that started with a single cloth-covered box that could run all of the OSes that Microsoft sold? When he uncovered the box it was an overhead projector - classic McNealy). And those that know me or have heard me speak know that I am an open source fan, nay, an open source bigot. Hence my quandary. Solaris for x86 is (and has been for how long?) open source. Yet, I can't help but feel that the folks at Sun are missing the boat.

Yeah, so we can run Sx86 on desktop hardware. We can even buy that hardware from Sun. Suppose, for just a moment, that we could run Sx86 not just on desktop hardware, but on big-iron hardware. Suppose, for just a moment, that this hardware was built by Sun. Can you imagine what kinds of big-iron hardware Sun could build? Imagine x86-based blade servers, intelligent clusters of servers, massively parallel multi-processor servers - all built and optimized by Sun for Solaris and supported by Sun's worldwide support infrastructure. Can you imagine what a killer OS this would be with Sun focusing all of their OS efforts on x86?

As an interesting by-product to this, the world gets an open source OS that is truly world class. An OS that is supported by the open source community and pushed forward by a "real" computing company (that phrase is for the IT managers, not a slap at Red Hat). It would be an OS that could make a formidable run at not just the high-end server market but at the desktop, too. (Note to self: be careful when speaking on behalf of the many developers out there who develop for the open source community. There are probably many that would be offended at the thought of providing code to a company that owns an OS even if it is open sourced.)

What about SPARC hardware? Here I must speak some (Sun) heresy. I would like to help Sun take itself out of the SPARC hardware market. That's right. I'm advocating leaving SPARC behind. Take that technological muscle and put it into building big-iron x86 servers. All of Sun's "wood" behind a single "arrowhead" (sorry, Scott). Use this as an opportunity to put some focus back into the product line - Solaris for x86 from the desktop to the largest and most complex high-end servers.

For those with a big investment in SPARC servers, I am not suggesting, nor am I foolish enough to believe, that everyone needs to perform a bunch of forklift upgrades. These boxes will run for a long time. During that time, there would be ample opportunity and justification to install new big-iron x86 hardware from Sun. We did the same thing in the transition from the Motorola-based servers, remember?

This is a(nother) chance for Sun to place their bet on today's equivalent of the VHS technology, rather than the BETA that they are currently using. Everyone knew then which technology was better, and everyone knows now which technology won the market over. Sun has tried to win with proprietary platforms (SPARC and SBus come to mind), and the results are sadly predictable. Why not win with a chip-set on which Sun can develop high-end server hardware products - products that can make our open source world a little better?

I must be dreaming. Come on Sun, join me on this boat. While you're here, why not drive?

More Stories By Stan Briggs

Stan Briggs has been a Unix hack since before the term was "popularized" by the press. His first *nix installation was on a TRS-80 Model 16 (TRS-Xenix). He is the proud father of four and an avid NC State fan.

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Most Recent Comments
Michael OConnor 02/03/06 12:37:29 AM EST

Most people don't seem to understand that choice is good. It is what drives competition and innovation. There is no need to have one CPU standard. In fact, it would be bad for the planet as innovation would stall. Take a look at what Sun is doing with the T1 processor. They are years ahead of Intel with this technology and once again driving the industry.

The Beta vs. VHS is an overused analogy and is not well applied to the Enterprise IT market where Sun plays. Intel is good at what they do but they don't do it all. Just like no one vehicle can meet every transportation need no one processor can meet all computing needs. And, last time I checked all those type of vehicles we use have different engine and tranmission designs. Java is the technology that masks the underlying instruction sets of different CPUs. Write the program in Java and you don't really care about the underlying CPU or even the OS for that matter.

People made the same mistake about Linux. Many seemingly bright people have suggested that Sun should have abandoned Solaris in favor of the less mature and capable technology. Instead, Sun doubled down on Solaris and the result was Solaris 10 and the world now has a choice between multi-platform, opensource technologies.

I for one hope Sun and Apple continue to do what is possible and push the limits of innovation. There will always be people who lack the sophistication to appreciate the difference but over time my bet is that the better technology will win out as the collective sophistication of the population grows.

Jeff W 01/31/06 04:53:05 PM EST

I'm still using several Sun Ultra Enterprise 2's with 64bit UltraSparc-II processors. It's been my experience through measured results on our applications that the newest x86_64 procs have a high initial load capacity when placed under load. But as the load continues to increase the performance starts decreasing. The Sparc processors on the other hand provide slightly less capacity but the performance is rock solid. Keep the Sparc!

Joe Customer 01/27/06 06:53:58 PM EST

Hey Stan. Forgive me if your title made me laugh a bit. Do you mean "Sun is missing the (Itanic) boat"? Yeah Sure-Itanium is the way to go. Well, you need to get a big clue. Where have you been hiding for the last year? Have you seen all the incredible new products Sun released from servers based on Opteron that scale to 8-way, UltraSPARC IV+ servers that are beating IBM and HP across a multitue of benchmarks and then the server landscape resetting server, the Sun Fire T1000/T2000 based on the UltraSPARC T1. You clearly haven't followed up on Sun otherwise you'd have a totally different point of view. The UltraSPARC T1 chip is 3-5 years ahead of the industry-read the analyst reports dummy. If the world all moved to Intel processors, we'd be back in the middle ages with no electricity or gas to run on. The Intel servers would be sucking it all up just like replacing the worlds cars with Hummers! Get a clue and stop writing this garbage.

SYS-CON Italy News Desk 01/27/06 10:19:53 AM EST

Forgive me for being a Scott McNealy fan, but I really can't help it. Scott and the crew at Sun have done a great job over the years producing what I consider to be really good products. Scott has also provided much-needed entertainment in the form of some very quotable quotes (who was there for his presentation that started with a single cloth-covered box that could run all of the OSes that Microsoft sold? When he uncovered the box it was an overhead projector - classic McNealy).

Dunstan Vavasour 01/27/06 05:06:29 AM EST

It always amuses me when Linux weenies start writing about Sun. You obviously have absolutely no idea. The reason that "big iron" is implemented on scalable hardware rather than lots of x86's isn't because no-one has got round to it yet, it's because the design considerations for large systems goes right into the processor core, and x86 (like Itanium, HP please note) can't cut it, while SPARC can.

We have reached an impasse with the "throw more hardware at it" approach - most systems now are limitted in performance by the speed of access to main memory. Sun have spent several years developing the Niagara processor architecture, and I suspect IBM are secretly trying to play catch up. High performance computing is difficult and complicated, and trite articles suggesting "simply stuff more of the wrong processors into a bigger box" don't offer any insight.