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Linux defector says RHEL zero, Sun Solaris hero

After years of contending with Red Hat kinks, one shop hesitantly made the switch to Sun Solaris 10 and hasn't looked back.

After years of Linux loyalty, a New York City-based open source company called Sapotek Inc. switched to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris 10 operating system with no regrets.

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Sapotek develops open source Web products and applications and provides free online desktop services to more than 200,000 users. The company's CEO, Joshua Rand, started the company with the free Fedora Linux distribution. That worked well enough for a small startup, but as business scaled, Fedora's effectiveness declined. So in 2005, Sapotek moved to a commercial version of Linux: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

As a small team, we were wasting time on routine tasks when we should have been able to focus on developing.
Joshua Rand,
CEOSapotek Inc.

Rand purchased the licenses and support for the company's five-compute node system -- all 64-bit Intel-Xeon based Dell 1U servers, plus an EMC Corp. storage unit -- to include patches and upgrades, but snafus persisted, he said.

"The problems we encountered were because Linux doesn't scale all that well," Rand said. "We had to maintain logs and partitions, and we devoted so much time to doing that manually. As a small team, we were wasting time on routine tasks when we should have been able to focus on developing."

Rand wasn't a fan of Red Hat's Global File System (GFS), either. Sapotek used GFS to store several different system configurations settings, such as crucial user files and its apache hosts.

"We had issues with GFS locking files at random. We couldn't isolate the issues, so we had to look at each configuration on each server, and every issue had a ripple effect that slowed down the system," Rand said.

Leaving Linux for Solaris
After two years of trying to make RHEL work, Rand had to move on. He looked closely at Solaris 10 and, after speaking with Sun engineers about a possible migration, decided to give Sun's Startup Essentials program a try.

"Being Linux people, we were hesitant to switch," he said. "We didn't even consider [Microsoft] Windows, because we are open source," said Rand. "Sun set up some virtual servers for us to run tests, and we ported all of our apps onto those virtual servers. We did load testing, saw that it worked well and decided to go ahead with the migration."

Sapotek now runs Solaris 10 OS on Sun 4200 servers with 64-bit Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron quad-core processors, along with Sun's x4500 storage unit.

The improvement is significant; with four compute nodes instead of five, Rand has more computing power and 99.99% uptime, compared with 97% uptime with RHEL, he said.

"With this switch, we've gone from playing in the sandbox to getting our doctoral degree. You can't even compare Red Hat GFS to Solaris ZFS," Rand said. "We no longer need to do all those chores we had to do with Linux. I can't even quantify the number of man-hours we freed by moving to Solaris. We have so much more time to develop our software now."

Linux vs. Solaris: The acquisition costs
In October, the Los Altos, Calif.-based consulting firm Crimson Consulting Group published a white paper under Sun sponsorship about the cost advantages of Solaris over RHEL.

The report indicates, for example, that while Solaris x64 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux are free and comparable in terms of implementation cost, Solaris ultimately has a lower acquisition cost because it includes features that users are likely to purchase separately in a Linux environment.

Of course, the Linux camp disagrees that Solaris is more cost-effective or performs better and points to market data as proof.

A November report by Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC shows that customers are migrating from Unix to Linux. Between 2006 and 2009 overall operating system revenue for Unix is expected to decline by 5% a year, while Linux revenue is projected to grow by 21% per year, according to IDC's "Worldwide Operating Systems and Subsystems 2007-2011 Forecast."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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