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OpenSolaris on System z mainframe hangs in the balance

The future of OpenSolaris on the IBM System z mainframe, a perennially niche platform, is tentative given Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

The future of OpenSolaris on the IBM System z mainframe seems shaky at best now that Oracle has acquired Sun Microsystems, but the platform's supporters are still pleading their case.

For more on System z and OpenSolaris:
OpenSolaris 2008.11 update woos Linux users

OpenSolaris on IBM System z mainframe will be a niche

OpenSolaris was never expected to be as widely adopted as Linux on the mainframe, but advocates believed that OpenSolaris could still carve out a place on IBM's big iron. In October 2008, Sine Nomine Associates released a port of OpenSolaris for System z, with IBM later providing support for it to run on its hardware. A Sine Nomine demo of the OpenSolaris port at Gartner Inc's Data Center Conference in 2007 drew interest.

But interest does not equal usage. The port was reportedly downloaded about 1,000 times, including multiple times by the same companies. That didn't discourage Sine Nomine Associates though.

"The project is still alive," David Boyes, president of Sine Nomine said. "It's not being killed off until Sun says it's going to cut off the OpenSolaris source [code] entirely, and that would be a signal that they don't want to play."

Boyes expects a new release of the port in the next two weeks. The current version dates from March 2009.

The future of OpenSolaris
Most important to the survival of OpenSolaris on System z -- its possibility as well as its support -- is the business case for it. Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison has openly stated that the company's goal for Sun is to make it profitable, and to that end, Oracle will support projects that generate revenue or have the potential to do so and drop the others. Oracle did not respond to repeated requests for comments this week. On the other hand, Ellison and Oracle have also pledged to keep Java and MySQL open and freely available.

The IBM System z product line is, by design, the ultimate business computing system.
Technology infrastructure architect

At least one mainframe end user sees the potential business benefit of the OpenSolaris-System z combination.

"I fundamentally believe that the IBM System z product line is, by design, the ultimate business computing system," said a technology infrastructure architect for a large Midwestern retailer, who requested anonymity. "Any software vendor that could support it or enterprise that can justify its usage would be crazy not doing so. The more options -- OpenSolaris emerging most recently -- the better."

While other end users are intrigued by the process, they have chosen to wait and see whether Oracle supports the project. Even Sine Nomine officials say they don't expect the number of companies running OpenSolaris on z to surpass the 10% of companies that run Linux on z. Still, major companies including the Mayo Clinic, Lockheed Martin and Deutsche Bank all use OpenSolaris for System z, according to Sine Nomine.

Boyes added that the future of OpenSolaris on z may just depend on what direction Oracle goes with Sun.

"I think it's going to come down to whether they're going to continue to license software to run on other people's hardware," he said. "If they go down the route that they want to ship appliances, and that it's a service, then they would probably yank OpenSolaris."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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