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."
From Indiana to Nevada
The OpenIndiana name refers to the "Indiana" code-name behind the original OpenSolaris distribution, which El Reg lovingly referred to as Project Copy Linux because what Sun was trying to do was emulate the Linux open development process and its goal of getting an operating system on as many devices as possible, with a heavy focus on the desktops used by developers. This is not the goal of OpenIndiana, any more than it is a goal that Oracle has for Solaris 10 or 11.
"The strength of Solaris is on servers, and that is where Solaris 11 is focused and where OpenIndiana is aimed at well. This is where we are going to get the most penetration." Lumsden says that Oracle is going after the top portion of the Solaris market, where customers generally have Sparc machines, but there is the tail end of the market that OpenIndiana will be going after, where the Linux practice of free updates prevails.
OpenIndiana build 147 is currently based on the last release of OpenSolaris to be put out by Oracle, which is about a month old according to Lumsden. That was the last time that the OS/Net core was updated. About 90 per cent of the OpenIndiana code is open, but for certain pieces of the stack, OpenIndiana had to raid the last build of the "Nevada" code base, which is what the production-grade Solaris 11 pre-release was called, and pull out binaries. (This was Nevada build 134). The distribution also includes closed-source drivers. "We are not going to be as anal as some of the other release out there, like Debian, that won’t ship binary drivers," says Lumsden.
For now, OpenIndiana will make use of the Oracle developed OS/Net kernel, but over time Lumsden expects the project to shift to the Illumos kernel and foundation. That won't happen for a while, perhaps after the OpenIndiana code settles down a bit and the Illumos code itself stops changing a lot.
The long term goal is to move beyond a development release based on the Oracle kernel to a stable release based on the Illumos kernel. How long this might take, Lumsden did not venture a guess. What Illumos will be charged with is ensuring that whatever changes it makes to OS/Net do not break compatibility with Solaris 10 and 11. Illumos also has the difficult task of resynchronizing releases after Solaris 11's source code is released by Oracle. (Just as Oracle has to do every time Red Hat updates Enterprise Linux and needs to spin up its clone of Red Hat's product).
The OpenIndiana project is part of the Illumos Foundation, itself a non-profit organization that is backed by Nexenta, one of the creators of an alternative OpenSolaris distribution. As the project formally launched today, OpenIndiana had 25 people contributing, with around 10 of them doing most of the heavy lifting over the past two months as they grabbed the source code and figured out how to make their own builds.
OpenIndiana does not include Sun's variant of the embedded Xen hypervisor, called xVM, that was ditched by Oracle in favor of its own Virtual Ironed Oracle VM. The Illumos project is thinking about whether or not it makes sense to revive this, according to Lumsden. Linux branded zones, which are Solaris containers running on x64 servers that can run compiled Linux code, have also been dropped. Illumos is open to the idea of bring these back as well, if people want to contribute. It is not clear how OpenIndiana will interface with Sun Cluster, Oracle's high availability clustering for general purpose applications, or HA Cluster, its clustering software for telecom applications.
At the moment, OpenIndiana is only available on x64 machines, but Sparc support will come eventually. (Illumos said the same thing about the OS/Net code when that project launched a month ago.) And when the stable releases are out, perhaps some months hence by our guess, the goal will be for them to be binary and package compatible with Solaris 11 and Solaris 11 Express. Regular builds, 100 per cent free (including updates), and 100 per cent open source are the aspirations Lumsden has for OpenIndiana. You can download the first development release here
One last thing, OpenIndiana: Don't forget to change the default country during the install from the US to the UK. You ain't in Silicon Valley any more. ®