LAS VEGAS -- At this week's Gartner Data Center Conference, it was plastered all over the IBM booth: "OpenSolaris on System Z demo!" David Boyes, president and chief technologist at Ashburn, Va.-based engineering firm Sine Nomine Associates was on hand to give users a firsthand look at the mainframe running Sun Microsystems' open source Unix variant OpenSolaris.
Boyes outlined the challenges of porting OpenSolaris over to System z and talked about the lessons learned from putting Linux on big iron.
"Solaris is actually more difficult to port than Linux," Boyes said. "Sun has only ever produced a port for two architectures, and Sparc and Intel aren't that different. The zSeries is a pretty different architecture."
In this video from the Gartner show floor, Boyes outlines the timeline on the project so far:
According to Boyes, the port is designed to run on IBM's mainframe virtualization platform z/VM. "The advantages of running it on bare metal are completely obliterated by the amount of pain and suffering it takes," Boyes said. "Virtualization is the way to go. It allows this thing to co-exist better with the rest of the IBM world, because z/VM already knows how to play by the rules. It knows how to share with z/OS."
This video discusses the decision to port OpenSolaris to ZVM as opposed to bare metal:
A new choice for Unix workloads?
For IBM's mainframe business, this is a big opportunity to continue banging the modernization drum. "If you're an IBM mainframe rep, you've got this killer story that you can tell about these modern workloads," said Joe Clabby, of Clabby Analytics in Yarmouth, Maine. "The focus is the applications -- putting Unix on System z expands application choices."
The biggest potential benefit to Sun customers is the ability to leverage the mainframe to consolidate old Sun servers onto a mainframe platform. "Solaris has been a mainstay in environments where platform stability is really critical: the financial space and telcos," said Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Inc. "A lot of those companies have older, less powerful and less efficient equipment and they're trying to figure out what to do with that hardware. Do you stick with Solaris on Sparc or decide to switch to Solaris on x86?"
According to King, Solaris on x86 allows you to keep the operating system your IT staff understands but cheaper hardware that may imply reductions in system availability. But if the mainframe is an option, you have a solid consolidation platform and stability. "For certain customers, it makes great sense, and many are already running both operating environments," King said.
In this third video, Boyes outlined his reasoning for porting the OS, which revolved around leveraging the stability of the Solaris operating system on a highly virtualized platform:
In this video, you see the startup on System z. Boyes showed a simple but technically complete application; it's the real thing. It really does run:
In this final video, you will see the Solaris kernel interrogating the environment to find out which capabilities and resources it has and to do some self-tuning. Boyes also explained how z/VVM mediates access to the z/OS data so the program can safely share disks without creating concerns about Solaris impacting the system:
For more on Unix on the mainframe:
IBM to sell Sun Solaris on x86 and mainframes; pigs fly