Oracle is touting a resurgence in Solaris on SPARC sales today. But is the venerable Unix platform making a comeback, or are there are other market forces at work?
While Linux has strongly dominated the enterprise server space for many years, there have always been other Unix-family operating systems as outliers in this sector: Oracle's Solaris, Hewlett Packard's HP-UX, IBM's AIX, and a whole raft of worthy BSDs have filled many slots in IT data centers.
Lately, though, the Solaris community seems to be regaining its voice, after enduring the turmoil of the Oracle acquisition of Sun Microsystems. The illumos project, a community-sponsored fork of the now-defunct OpenSolaris operating system, is living on and seems to be thriving, despite Oracle's decision to kill OpenSolaris in 2010.
And it's not just illumos; OpenIndiana, a LiveCD-based on illumos, is generating quite a bit of interest these days.
It's not all roses and sunshine, though; both of these Solaris offshoots are having trouble getting native kernel support for the latest Intel drivers that have kernel-mode-setting (KMS) support. But then, they would be the first to tell you about Linux's lack of full Dtrace support, save for an Oracle port that's in beta now, so all things might be equal.
Solaris-based platforms may soon become more commonplace, as companies like Joyent push full cloud stacks that are based on Solaris, not Linux. Red Hat's recent moves to shift their own filesystem to something more Solaris compatible could be taken as a move to position themselves against a coming Solaris threat.
But is the recent news from Oracle the mark of Solaris rising? Perhaps, but I think it's telling that given the rosy news about growing Solaris 11 on SPARC T4 sales, Oracle didn't remember to mention that these sales came after the March 23 launch of their Trade IN, Trade UP program, which specifically targeted IT shops to turn in their old hardware for Solaris 11 on shiny new "SPARC Enterprise M8000, SPARC Enterprise M9000, or SPARC SuperCluster T4-4" machines.
Given the presence of such a program, I think it's reasonable to take this week's Solaris news with a definite grain of salt.
Is this enough to discount Solaris' perceived growth of late? No, not really. Just as Linux has an opportunity for strong growth in public and private cloud computing. there's no real reason why Solaris-based (and BSD-based, for that matter) platforms can't take advantage of the same opportunity.
Application availability and ISV partnerships are always a hurdle to overcome, of course. So is pricing and support. But given the community impetus and innovation that's happening in the respective Solaris and BSD communities, coupled with the presence of some very established software corporations, these should be obstacles that can be crossed.
Cloud is disruptive, they say. And it could be as disruptive for the cloud platforms as it is for cloud consumers.
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