Google Said to Be Testing Sun's Open-source Solaris

Technology may be alternative to Linux in server network, sources say

Google Inc. is experimenting with the open-source version of Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris operating system as apossible prelude to running it alongside Linux in its massive global network of servers, according to sources.

With dozens of data centers housing hundreds of thousands of Intel servers supporting its flagship search engine, a move by Google toward Solaris would be a vote of confidence for Sun’s operating system.

Google officials last week declined to comment on the company’s OpenSolaris plans.

Sun CIO Robert Worrall said that Google is one of several large companies using open-source implementations of Solaris, including Solaris 10 and Solaris Express.

“Google, eBay, Yahoo — pick your favorite,” said Worrall, whose internal IT team runs Solaris Express, the executable version of the OpenSolaris source code, on systems throughout Sun and has advised many customers on its deployment.

Worrall said that Google runs a “significant amount” of Solaris in its data centers and is one of a number of customers “excited about the possibility” of installing more Sun servers based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Opteron processors and running some version of open-source Solaris.

Sources, including Sun, said that the list of Solaris 10 users also includes eBay Inc., which touts its use of the open-source operating system on its Web site, Yahoo Inc., Vonage Holdings Corp., USA LLC, Disney Mobile, Reuters Group PLC and Bear, Stearns & Co.

Sources outside Google of saidthat its servers currently run a stripped-down version of Red Hat Linux that has been modified by the company’s engineers. A Solaris systems administrator who recently interviewed for a job atGoogle said that he was told by employees there that the search engine vendor plans to create and test its own modified version of OpenSolaris.

Stephen Arnold, a technology consultant and author of The Google Legacy, said that he is “100% certain that there are literally dozens of people horsing around with Open¿Solaris inside Google.”

Switching to OpenSolaris would be a natural move for Google, which has a large number of former Sun employees and is striving to push the performance of its data centers, Arnold said. But he added that he doubts Google is widely deploying OpenSolaris yet. “Will it quickly replace Linux anytime soon? No,” he said.

The growth of Solaris since its unveiling as an open-source offering some 15 months ago is seen by some as a sign of resurgence for the nearly 20-year-old operating system.

According to Sun, more than 5 million users have registered to use Solaris 10 since its release in January 2005, a figure that includes those paying Sun for support and those using it for free. And market researcher IDC said that Sun’s share of the server market rose to 12.9% in the second quarter of this year, up from 11.2% a year earlier.

OpenSolaris community Web site says it has 15,600 registered members, 10% of whom are Sun employees.

Meanwhile, a number of organizations are well into open-source Solaris implementation projects.

“Before, you had to be a big Sun customer and sign a lot of [nondisclosure agreements] to beta-test Solaris,” said Dale Ghent, a systems administrator at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Ghent is in the process of moving 30 servers off of Red Hat Enterprise Linux to Solaris. “Being able to test Solaris Express early gave us a psychological level of assurance,” he said.

Some users are even embracing Solaris Express for production tasks.

Last year, for example, San Anselmo, Calif.-based Web-hosting provider Joyent Inc. moved hundreds of servers and nearly 100TB of data onto Solaris Express and off of FreeBSD Unix and SUSE Linux open-source implementations.

Joyent Chief Technology Officer Jason Hoffman said the move boosted his data center’s performance while cutting costs and system crashes.

OpenSolaris Terms

•  OpenSolaris: The open-source project around the

Solaris operating system that was launched in June 2005.

•  Solaris 10: The latest commercially supported open-source Solaris version from Sun.

•  Solaris Express: Another free version of Solaris, with the latest features from open-source contributors and Sun engineers;

aimed at developers.

•  SchilliX: The first third-party Solaris distribution; can be booted from a CD for easier testing.

•  Nexenta: Another third-party Solaris distribution, noteworthy for featuring an Ubuntu Linux user interface on top of the Solaris kernel.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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