After over a years delay, Solaris is getting some interoperability with Linux and other Unix systems.
Sun Microsystems Inc. has promised Linux binary application compatibility in Solaris 10—Project Janus—but was unable to deliver on its promises.
Now, Sun has released an application framework, BrandZ to the OpenSolaris community, which will eventually enable Solaris on Intel users to run not just Linux applications, but Darwin, Mac OS Xs underlying operating system, or FreeBSD programs as well.
Sun had to delay the project because many Linux binaries have dependencies for native environments already built in and require separate development work for each version, said Glenn Weinberg, vice president of Suns operating platforms group when the delay was first announced in November 2004.
Weinberg then predicted that Janus would be added to Solaris early in 2005.
The technical problems proved even more intractable than predicted though. By June 2005, Project Janus had transformed into LAE (Linux Application Environment). LAE was to enable users to run Linux applications with an optional Solaris kernel service.
That plan proved too optimistic. So it is only now has Sun released any level of Linux application interoperability to Solaris.
Even now, however, Nils Nieuwejaar, BrandZs technical lead, admits in an online memo that the project, and the Linux side, lx, are “very much works in progress —so they are being released independently from the mainline Solaris source tree.”
BrandZ, Nieuwejaar explained, “is a framework that builds on the zones functionality introduced in Solaris 10, and is the technology that underlies the feature known as SCLA (Solaris Containers for Linux Applications.)”
“BrandZ allows for the creation of zones populated with non-native software. Each new zone type is referred to as a brand and the installed zones are called Branded Zones.” Thus, the framework can theoretically support multiple operating systems at once.
Unlike VM (virtual machine) technology such as Xen, BrandZ supports not an entire virtual operating system with all its overhead, but simply other operating systems applications.
In any case, as Nieuwejaar has said, “BrandZ/lx is still very much a work in progress. This means that it should be expected to crash at any time, set fire to your datacenter and kick your cat.”
Sun Losing Customers to
Sun is nevertheless delivering this early version because “customers are asking their sales people where the feature is, and people within Sun are asking us how they can use it,” said Nieuwejaar.
“Getting this out on opensolaris.org lets us answer everybody at once. This isnt feature-complete by any stretch of the imagination but, for good or ill, this release will let everybody know exactly where the project stands.”
Dan Kusnetzky, IDCs program vice president for system software, understands why Sun is making this move.
“HP and IBM have long offered Unix/Linux compatibility features. Its not surprising that Sun would do the same to remain competitive. Organizations clearly are seeking ways to reduce their costs. This also means trying to find ways to reduce their costs of development and support,” said Kusnetzky.
In particular, Sun has been losing Solaris customers to Red Hat Linux.
For example, on Tuesday, Skanska, a major world-wide construction company, announced it had moved its 5,000 user business intelligence system from Solaris to RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).
Stacey Quandt, a research director at Aberdeen Group, points out that, “Sun needs to make Solaris appealing to multiple camps in an organization and recognize that supporting Linux applications via Solaris zones brings more people to the table.”
“The upside for customers is that this can reduce the number of servers to acquire and manage. Also, given the similarities between Solaris and Linux, this can reduce the number of system administrators,” added Quandt.
Indeed, once BrandZ has made it past its rough early days, Quandt said that BrandZ could “make it harder for Red Hat to play hardball negotiations because Sun could just as easily support SUSE on BrandZ.”
“This outcome would make the list price of Red Hat Enterprise Linux unsustainable,” said Quandt. “At the end of the day, Sun is fighting for the hearts and minds of customers, yet the maturation of Linux offers Sun customers an alternative and Suns OpenSolaris and now BrandZ are designed to dilute the appeal of Linux on IBM, HP, and Dell hardware.”
It is Suns intention that the first operating system applications to receive functional support on BrandZ will be Red Hat Inc.s RHEL and CentOS, which is a code-identical, non-Red Hat branded version of RHEL.