Alan Hargreaves' Blog

The ramblings of a former Australian SaND TSC* Principal Field Technologist

Red Hat vs Sun

There was an article on zdnet Australia this morning about the Red Hat Network “supporting” Solaris in order to transition customers from Solaris to Linux, along with some comments about Sun’s support of Open Source. I’ll touch on a few other comments from various sources through out this as well.

To the article.

The Red Hat ‘Network’ systems management tool is to gain the ability to manage software distribution and configuration for Solaris, with Red Hat claiming the features are the “the final nail in the coffin” for Sun’s operating system. However the software could be four months away from release.

First off, I think it’s wonderful that Red Hat will be “doing” Solaris. I look forward to hearing more details on how they will be doing this support. I’m not quite sure about the final nail in the coffin though. There are already many management tools that folk use for maintaining Solaris. One of the comments on osnews made some observations after attending a seminar at which this was discussed.

The first problem we (the group of admins I work with) was the starting price of $13,000 for the Management Server software. […] During the discussion about the Management Server I kept saying “it’s a poor man’s Tivoli” and for the capabilities it has, can be easily duplicated with other F/OSS tools that even if you paid for them, would cost less than $13,000. The first thing that comes to mind in monitoring is Nagios.

I personally feel that some people at RedHat need to put the crack pipe down and listen to Solaris, AIX, and HP-UX admins. If RedHat is trying to convert existing networks to use their products, they not only have to win over management, they have to win over the administrators too. In that regard RedHat has some serious work to do, because I am not convinced their products are superior, especially above 8 CPU’s. And the solution to every computing problem is not a cluster.

I hope Red Hat is listening to their customers.

Back to the article

Speaking with ZDNet Australia yesterday morning, Red Hat general manager for Australia and New Zealand Gus Robertson made it clear that the new features of Red Hat Network were aimed squarely at putting Sun Microsystems out of business. He said: “We have been talking about the demise of Unix for some time and had our sights set firmly on Solaris”.
“The majority of the business that we’ve been getting has been Unix to Linux migrations. With respect to migrations with time frames in the medium to long term, as opposed to the short term, our customers have been asking constantly if we could incorporate Solaris into the Red Hat Network”.

Wonderful, they are listening. Please note, this is two companies competing pure and simple. I certainly hope that Red Hat will not be subject to the same vitriol that we are when we make comments that are simply competing. I do find it disappointing that while we have consistantly said that we are competing with Red Hat (not that we want to “put [Red Hat] out of business), that Gus would make such a comment about wantng to put us out of business. Although, I think it will take a little more than this. Folks it’s competition, don’t take it so personally.

The RHN features were released simultaneously with version 4 of Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux (RHEL) solution, which Robertson said was “banging the final nail in the coffin for Solaris”. RHEL v4 is based upon version 2.6 of the Linux kernel, and includes support for the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) software. The distribution will also support version 2.8 of the popular Gnome desktop software.

That’s great that you’re getting the certification. I think it will be some time, however, before anything “bang[s] the final nail in the coffin for Solaris”. There are too many things that Solaris does better than it’s competition. That being said, I should also state, that I do not believe that that is strictly one way. There are certainly areas in which Linux out-does Solaris.

Paul Gampe, Red Hat’s director of engineering for Asia-Pacific, who also spoke with ZDNet Australia , said that the inclusion of SELinux would bring security features to the distribution that traditionally would have been priced out of the market “for the average data centre operator”. According to the web site of the NSA, the software “enforces mandatory access control policies that confine user programs and system servers to the minimum amount of privilege they require to do their jobs”.

Again, well done Red Hat. I know that there are a lot of folks out there looking for this kind of thing.

In addition, Robertson said, Red Hat is locked into agreements with partners Intel, IBM and Oracle that would not leave the company at liberty to modify its rigid 12-18 month release cycle.

Welcome to the datacentre. This is the kind of thing that we have to work with too.

Gampe also took the opportunity to weigh in on the Java Desktop System (JDS), Sun’s own desktop system which somewhat competes with Red Hat’s product line. Gamte said the name JDS was a misnomer, as the system was “a straight Gnome desktop with a couple of Java apps that don’t follow the look and feel ? basically just marketing”.

Yup, it’s marketing. The idea is that the platform is provided as an enabler of Java Technology. It does that quite well. It should be also noted that JDS is a desktop, not an Operating System. JDS is available on Linux (on x86) and Solaris (on SPARC, x86 and x64). Two companies competing. Nothing to see here.

The topic led into the general issue of Sun’s recent moves to release more of its software to the Open Source community. In January the company released its DTrace software, a key component of Solaris 10 which allows network and system performance to be fine-tuned in real-time. The company also released information to the effect that it intends to show its good faith to the community by open sourcing the bulk of Solaris 10 under its Community Development and Distribution Licence (CDDL), which is understood to be directly based on the Mozilla Public Licence (MPL).

Gus apparantly doesn’t understand why we chose to release the code to Dtrace in the fashion that we did. Let me attempt to explain.

There were many naysayers out theer saying that even if we did release the OS code under an OSI compliant license, that there would be no way we would release the new stuff (Dtrace, Zones, ZFS, …). Guess what. To prove this statement wrong, we released the source to Dtrace while we continue on our due diligence of ensuring that everything else that gets released is kosher.

We gave a committment to release Open Solaris under an OSI compliant license. We stand by that commitment. There are comparisons between the CDDL and the MPL available at, including discusion on why we selected it and why we made the changes that we did. Also worth noting is that OSI accepted it as OSI compliant.

Robertson did not seem to be impressed with the practicality of Sun’s demonstration of good faith, saying: “Red Hat’s policy is to be an open source provider of technology. Our competitors are providing a hybrid of open source and proprietary software ? that’s not the model we’re going after”. He went on to say: “We’ve had a very clear focus on Open Source technology and have been doing it for over ten years, now other organisations are seeing that this is successful and have started to copy what we’re doing. But this is not something that you can start doing overnight”.

We’re obviously focussing on different markets. I do take a little exception to the implication that Red Hat has been doing open source for far longer than Sun and that we are the newcomer. This is either a straight out lie or, he is misinformed. Guy, go and have a look at We’ve been doing open source a lot longer than you folks have existed. I agree it’s not something that can be done overnight. It’s something that we’ve actually been working on for some time. Something else to consider is that Red Hat is a Competitor to Sun. Do you really expect them to be impressed with anything that we do?

Gampe was more clear about what exactly his organisation felt about the issue, saying: “The open source train has left the station and Sun has been left behind”.

Again, more marketing and competing. Time will tell.

We see a demand for what we are doing with Open Solaris and we see areas that it can be profitable for both us and those participating in the community. That’s good enough for us.

We’ve committed to a buildable Open Solaris in Calendar Q2 this year. As a participant in the pilot, I’d say things look pretty much on track. We have already had a few pilot members blogging about getting their builds of the code working.

I feel the need to also make another comment on the CDDL. Sun lodged this license in such a way that it is available for anyone who wants to use it. We attempt to at least acknowledge that petents exist and do something about it. Ignoring the patent issue is not going to protect you from it. Code licensed with CDDL goes some way to providing a little in the way of protection. Simon Phipps has written a lot more on this subject on his blog and a bit more here as well.

There is some discussion at the moment on slashdot about certain folks from OSDL at Linux World commenting about there being too many OSI licenses. Maybe the CDDL can help here here. One comment from Sam Greenblatt bears noting and comment.

Eventually there should be three licenses: The GPL, a commercial version of the GPL, and, of course, there will be the BSD because you can’t rid of it.'”

I must say that I find that comment extremely narrow minded and I would have expected better from him.

Folks, this is the real world. While GPL is appropriate for many things, it is not the answer to everything. Of course, Sam would be totally impartial in making this comment, wouldn’t he. There couldn’t possibly be a vested interest could there?

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Written by Alan

February 16, 2005 at 10:19 pm

2 Responses

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  1. “There are too many things that Solaris does better than its competition.”
    You can say that again! For one, Linux’s support for hardware other than x86_{32,64} leaves much to be desired, *especially* on SPARC platforms. Also, I think that it is very bad when there is a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas, even if the entity is “open-source”. Freedom, by definition, is all about allowing many voices and providing many choices. One only needs to look at Windows to see what happens when there is a lack of competition.
    What was it that Henry Ford once said? “You can have a car in any color as long as it is black.” That idea *sure* lasted a long time… I totally agree that it is rather naive to assume that it will come down to three licenses. Good grief, I think it is near impossible to find something that is only done three ways. Everyone is different, and because of that there will always be a diversity of licenses to suit the author’s particular preferences.

    Nicholas Wourms

    February 21, 2005 at 11:58 am

  2. One could also argue that it is not the Unix Way.
    The Unix Way pretty much states that there are many ways to do something, not one right way to do it.
    For us, MPL was close to what we wanted but needed a few things addressing, including making it more general and recognising that there are patent issues that do not go away if we ignore them. As I’ve said before, Simon Phipps has written some great stuff on this.

    Alan Hargreaves

    February 22, 2005 at 8:09 pm

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