Sun to further promote Linux use on its servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. is making another move to encourage developers to port other operating systems to its servers, notably Linux, the company announced Tuesday. Under its OpenSparc initiative, Sun released two specifications related to its UltraSparc T1 processor to make running non-Solaris operating systems on servers powered by that chip easier.

Sun hopes the ability to run Linux and other operating systems on UltraSparc T1 will grow the market for its Sparc chip architecture and the servers based on that architecture, according to Fadi Azhari, Sun's director of outbound marketing. The UltraSparc T1 chip's multithreading capabilities are well suited for Web-centric applications, he said in an interview Tuesday. Sun's servers built on the processor can provide "very, very good alternative performance and power consumption" to their Lintel peers, he said, meaning servers based on Intel Corp. chips running Linux.

The OpenSparc initiative released the UltraSparc Architecture 2005 and Hypervisor API (application programming interface) specification, Sun revealed at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) taking place in San Francisco through Wednesday.

The UltraSparc Architecture 2005 specification documents the complete instruction set architecture (ISA) for Sun's 64-bit Sparc implementation, while the UltraSparc Hypervisor API specification describes the hypervisor technology incorporated in the chip that provides a virtual machine environment where a guest operating system such as Linux can run. Responding to reports suggesting that Sun will combine its hypervisor with Xensource Inc.'s Xen open-source virtualization, Azhari said Sun has yet to make a decision. "We're looking at all sorts of virtualization technologies," he added.

Sun announced its OpenSparc program to publish specifications for the UltraSparc T1 multicore, multithreaded 64-bit chip, formerly code-named Niagara, back in December. The company described the move as "open sourcing" hardware and positioned the program as a way to eventually have third parties improve on the processor's design and produce their own UltraSparc T1-based chips.

The release of the two specifications is "phase one" of what Sun promised with OpenSparc, according to Azhari. Phase two will be the release later this quarter of the register transfer level (RTL), the design specification for the UltraSparc T chip, he said. The RTL documentation will enable third parties to build their own UltraSparc processors.

Back in December, Sun claimed that it was already actively working with Linux distribution vendor Red Hat Inc. to port Linux to Niagara servers. Azhari said Sun is working with "key [Linux] vendors," not Red Hat alone. Sun is leaving the porting of operating systems like Linux to third parties, so he couldn't comment on when such porting efforts using the UltraSparc Architecture 2005 and Hypervisor API specifications might be complete.

The specifications will enable developers to port not only non-Solaris operating systems to UltraSparc T1-based servers, but also middleware and applications, according to Sun. The company has been very vocal in stressing that most applications can already run optimally without modification on systems powered by its UltraSparc T1 chip. However, some analysts have expressed concerns over how much work third-party application developers may have to do to make their software run fully optimized on servers based on the multithreaded processor. "You can run applications with no change, there's no need to recompile," Azhari said. However, having access to the specifications will enable the "fine tuning" of applications, he added.

The documentation relating to the two specifications is available for download.

Sun has no plans at present to encourage running Linux on servers based on its UltraSparc IV and IV+ chips, according to Azhari. He positioned the company's own flavor of Unix, Solaris 10, as the best operating system for running "mission-critical and high resiliency applications," he said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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