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Sun OpenSolaris available on the IBM System z mainframe

Thanks to work by Sine Nomine Associates, Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris can now be ported to the IBM System z mainframe and is now available as a free download.

Thanks to work by David Boyes of Sine Nomine Associates, an engineering firm, a version of OpenSolaris that runs on the IBM System z mainframe is now available.

At last year's Gartner Data Center Conference, Boyes, Sine Nomine president and chief technologist, demonstrated a first look at the mainframe running Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris. Now Sine Nomine has made the first OpenSolaris on z release available for free download. It is considered an early version -- another is due out by the end of the year -- but it works. This week, Boyes discussed the release with

For more on OpenSolaris and the mainframe:
Unix on the mainframe: IBM demos OpenSolaris

Demonstration: OpenSolaris running on IBM mainframe  

Sun gives OpenSolaris commercial support for first time

Take us through the concept-to-delivery timeline of OpenSolaris on the System z mainframe.
David Boyes: As soon as Sun made the source code available for OpenSolaris back in 2005, we started working on it. In early 2007, we presented the idea at the zSeries Expo in Munich and pretty much scared the tail off the IBMers there. IBM contacted us and asked us what was going on with this. That's when they agreed to contribute some information and assistance to make the port go more quickly.

That led up to the demo that [] filmed at the Gartner conference in November. We had a reasonably complete system by the end of January and released a system for internal testing in late March. The rest of the year has been essentially exhaustive testing.

Can you elaborate on IBM's reaction at the zSeries Expo?
Boyes: When we presented this, all the Germany guys were like, "Who is this guy, and why is he making this complicated?" The idea got back to IBM U.S. and went up the food chain. It was basically that it wasn't what [IBM] was planning. [Editors' note: Evidence suggests OpenSolaris on z wasn't in IBM's five-year, 10-year, or any-year plan and threw Big Blue for a loop. ]

How did porting Solaris onto the mainframe differ from Linux on the mainframe?
Boyes: It's a structurally different operating system. The code itself is not directly portable from the Linux environment. There were a lot of things that were involved that were similar to Linux. One of the things we were conscious of was we deliberately exploited the benefits that [z/]VM provided.

Why did you decide to port OpenSolaris to z/VM instead of the mainframe's bare metal?

When we presented this, all the Germany guys were like, 'Who is this guy, and why is he making this complicated?'
David Boyes,
president and CTOSine Nomine Associates
Boyes: Bare metal is a lot of work for not a whole lot of value. The virtualization component is much more important. With bare metal, you can't get enough LPARs (logical partitions) to make it a discussion about whether it's worth it. According to analysts, you need about 30 Linux instances to make the purchase of a z9 Business Class mainframe cost-effective. With z/VM, you can have thousands of Linux guests. p>

Once you've made the decision to put z/VM in there, there is 40 years of experience on how to get guests running efficiently. As soon as there is some shared functionality – caching, I/O scheduling – why not let the hypervisor do it for you? It can be intelligent about all the I/O passing through the system. Both Solaris and Linux [which was also ported to z/VM] will try to optimize that, but because they don't have a full picture of the whole system, they do a lousy job of it.

So what's on tap for the future?
Boyes: We're concentrating on how we can absorb applications that can't be recompiled or we don't have the source code for – we call it a universal processor emulator. There are some folks working on Windows now. We're trying to be as general as possible. For example, with PA-RISC, one of the interesting things about HP-UX and Superdome, it really needs a low latency network and the zSeries provides that. It just opens up a lot of other stuff.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. And check out our mainframe blog.

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