Ferguson is part of Sine Nomine Associates, the company that worked to port OpenSolaris to the mainframe, running on top of z/VM in an Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) mainframe processor. Last week in Austin, he spoke about the platform convergence at the Share mainframe user group conference.
"With the success of the Linux initiative, mainframe is less of a dirty word," Ferguson said. "Yes, Solaris on System z is a niche, but I think it has the potential to advance the consolidation push and the virtualization push."OpenSolaris-on-mainframe growth uncertain
Last fall, Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris on the IBM System z mainframe became available, and Sine Nomine continues to create new builds of the operating system for the mainframe, with cooperation from IBM and Sun. Over the next few weeks, a new one is due out.
"[OpenSolaris on z] has the potential to be another option, another way, of doing Solaris," Ferguson said.
He added, half-jokingly, that in his view, "anything other than Windows is a niche market."
Linux came to the mainframe for the first time 10 years ago and is now one of the most popular new uses for the platform. Some estimate that more than half of all million-instruction per second that IBM has sold since the System z10 was released go to Linux. Ferguson doesn't believe OpenSolaris will get that big.
"When it comes to niches, I'd like 10% of Linux on System z niche," he said. "But how big a niche [OpenSolaris on z] will be, I haven't a clue."<.b>Broadening mainframe OS universe
For some, just the intrigue of bringing more outside operating systems into the mainframe fold is a fascinating concept.
"Being a big Linux guy and seeing Solaris ported to other platforms is interesting," said Christian McArthur, a mainframer and graduate student at Texas A&M University. "For a single piece of hardware to be able to run all these different operating systems, it's very interesting. It definitely addresses the whole issue of server sprawl."
McArthur referenced another possible operating system on the mainframe: Windows. The company Mantissa was scheduled to unveil new technology at Share that would make running x86 Windows on the mainframe a possibility.
Sine Nomine is also working on what Chief Technology Officer David Boyes calls a "universal processor emulator" -- a way to absorb applications that can't be recompiled or whose source code is unavailable.
There is also still plenty of work to do with OpenSolaris on z, Ferguson said. There is a completed, clean build of the operating system kernel, but "there is no way this is a production system," he said. "You're not going to be running Oracle on it."
What else is there to do? Build a Java development kit (JDK) for OpenSolaris on the mainframe, for one. Ferguson called that the "800-pound gorilla in the room" and said it is really onerous to port Java. Other tasks: building interoperability with Linux on System z, getting the much-renowned application troubleshooter DTrace to work within OpenSolaris on the mainframe, and fixing other bugs as they're reported.
In the meantime, OpenSolaris for System z is available for free download. The site has had about 3,500 unique visitors since the download became available.