It is not quite ready for primetime, but with the announcement of OpenIndiana, a so-called spork of Oracle's OpenSolaris Unix distribution, the server world is getting a familiar, re-opened, and community-developed operating system aimed specifically at data center workloads.
Alasdair Lumsden owns a hosting company in London called EveryCity Managed Hosting, and his customers are deployed on Solaris 10, which was made freely available with security patches when it was announced nearly six years ago by Sun Microsystems. The company has 50 servers supporting 250 Solaris containers - not exactly a hyperscale customer by some standards - but Lumsden has been an enthusiastic supporter of the OpenSolaris project and did his part in the community as he built a business running Solaris on x64 servers.
Sun and Oracle have been messing with his business for some time, and so Lumsden decided to put his money – which would otherwise go to Oracle for support contracts – and his brain where the OpenSolaris community's mouth should have been and created a fork of sorts of the OpenSolaris distro.
Lumsden did this for many reasons. First, he thinks Solaris is the best operating system in the world.
"I love Solaris, and I almost feel that this is my calling in life," Lumsden explained in an interview with El Reg ahead of the announcement of the OpenIndiana Unix distro. He said that as Sun ran into financial problems two years ago, it was doing just enough to call it a community and to push development of the platform. Sun also shut down access to security fixes ahead of the acquisition by Oracle.
Then Oracle changed the licensing terms for the Solaris 10 freebie distribution, which only allows those who download the operating system to use it in test and development environments; if you use Solaris 10 in production, you are supposed to pay Oracle $1,000 to $2,000 per socket per year, depending on the scalability of the server. Then the OpenSolaris community died of neglect and eventually committed ritual suicide.
While the Illumos Project, launched in early August to create an open source alternative to the OpenSolaris and Solaris kernel and core network features (called OS/Net in the Sun lingo), Illumos did not go so far as to create a full distribution. Moreover, the sporky bit was that Illumos was going to try to work with Oracle and contribute code changes into OpenSolaris in the hopes that Oracle will adopt some of the changes and share some of its own.
We now know that Oracle is not planning on using a community-driven development process for the future Solaris 11 operating system, due next year, but it will – as Sun used to do before Solaris was open sourced – give developers a sneak peak at Solaris 11 through an Express Edition later this year. And Oracle has promised to release the Solaris 11 code after the software is released for production use. There's nothing wrong with this. It is a hell of a lot more than HP-UX and AIX customers get, for instance, and lots more than Windows users will ever see. It is just not what some Solaris and OpenSolaris customers, like Lumsden, signed up for when they chose Sun's Unix variant.
Why not just shut up and use Linux, as so many former Sun customers over the past decade have clearly done?
"For us, Linux lacks many of the features that we use every day, like ZFS and containers," explains Lumsden. And while sporking OpenSolaris takes a lot of time, time is money, and at 50 two-socket servers, Lumsden was looking at cutting a check for $100,000 to Oracle to keep his Solaris 10 servers under a maintenance contract. That is serious money to a small business. "This is taking up a huge amount of time," Lumsden concedes. "But doing this costs us less than we will pay Oracle for Solaris 11."