Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Oracle Dumping SPARC and Solaris?

wrote an article for NETWORKWORLD titled:  Game over for Solaris and SPARC?

The subtitle is:  "Oracle kills Solaris development, lays off Sun hardware workers. The conclusion is inevitable."


As Mr. Patrizio states:  "When Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, the company inherited a venerable Unix solution that was already in decline. The Solaris operating system on Sun’s SPARC hardware was losing ground to x86 running Linux (or Windows Server) already, and IBM was cleaning its clock by stealing away SPARC customers to its Power series of servers. " 


As stated at Wikipedia: "The Scalable Processor Architecture (SPARC) is a reduced instruction set computing (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) originally developed by Sun Microsystems. Since the establishment of SPARC International, Inc. in 1989, the SPARC architecture has been developed by its members. SPARC International is also responsible for licensing and promoting the SPARC architecture, managing SPARC trademarks (including SPARC, which it owns), and providing conformance testing. SPARC International was intended to open the SPARC architecture to create a larger ecosystem; and SPARC has been licensed to several manufacturers, including Atmel, Cypress Semiconductor, Fujitsu, and Texas Instruments. As a result of SPARC International, SPARC is fully open, non-proprietary and royalty-free."

For those of us who spent decades at Sun, this is a sad day, but certainly not unexpected.  I am surprised it took seven years.  What hurt Solaris was the false start of open sourcing Solaris and then pulling back on it.  Sun could not figure out how to open source Solaris, have an x86 Solaris offering and keep making lots of money of the big SPARC Solaris servers.  It was the classic innovators dilemma.   Solaris had so many incredible innovations.  I really feel that Linux never would have made it IF Sun would have open sourced SunOS and then Solaris.  When Oracle purchased Sun, they then stopped the open source Solaris as well.  The mixed messaging was a killer.


When SPARC first came out it in 1987, it was 2.5X the performance of what you could find on an equivalent  Motorola 68020.  It was able to do this because it optimized for what was the most used instructions - aka RISC - Reduced Instruction Set Computing.  I was at Sun Microsystems prior to the SPARC release, as as well as prior to the Intel line of Sun computers.  SPARC was a kick a$$ microprocessor in its day.  I was one of Sun's first "SPARC Ambassadors".  This meant that we would show up at customers, partners and Sun offices to talk in detail about the technical and business advantages of SPARC.


While SPARC was the first open architecture instruction set, the problem was the we talked a little bit out of both sides of our mouth when it came to the marketplace. What  I mean is that we encouraged companies to create SPARC processors and systems based on SPARC.  However, sales had to compete with these new companies and of course, Sun's sales reps did not want to lose SPARC or Solaris sales to Sun clones, so they would cut to the bone on discounts.  


The next obvious step for these companies was to feed around the edges and not go right after Sun's business.  That worked out for awhile, but then the cost to create the next new microprocessor was growing exponentially.  I remember the first time I heard a Sun microprocessor designer say, "We will spend $200 million to find out if we have a SPARC chip or an expensive coaster."


Solaris was and is an amazing OS.  I remember being part of the first three System Engineers from the field to go to corporate to do a month worth of engineers using Solaris 2.0  In order to appreciate Solaris, you really had to have an understanding of what makes a great operating system.  Sun had the best developers starting with the legendary Bill Joy aka wnj.


One of my favorite phrases is, "while you date your hardware vendor, you marry your software vendor."  This applies to the ubiquity of Intel PCs where the question of, "does it really matter if we buy Lenovo or HP PCs?"  versus "let's switch from SAP to Oracle for our ERP vendor".   If you are a CIO, then who cares if you buy a brand-x PC, but try converting to a new software platform or you will likely lose your job if it fails. 


When people ask me about Sun I always tell them that it was the best 23 years of working life.  I could go on and on about how great Sun Microsystems was to work at and how incredible its employees were. 


It is still tough to swallow that Sun, and now it sounds like SPARC and Solaris, will be relegated to an entry in wikipedia.  However, what is nice is that those relationships with Sun employees continue to this day.

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