Sun, Solaris and Bundled Virtualization

When we double the speed of our computers, our customers don’t buy half as many, they tend to buy twice as many. Hold that thought.


I was with a variety of external audiences yesterday – our business results stirred up some questions, partially based on comments we made about virtualization’s impact on the quarter. Which I thought I’d clarify in a quick note, before a broader summary next week.


I’d like to go on record saying virtualization is good for the technology industry – which seems to be counterintuitive. The general fear is that technologies like Solaris 10 or VMware that help people squeeze more work from the systems they already own is somehow bad for Sun. In my view, quite the opposite is true.


As I said, when we double the speed of our computers, people don’t buy half as many – they tend to buy twice as many. To companies that see information technology as a weapon (that’s not everyone, btw), increasing the power of the arsenal without increasing its price incents more purchases, not less. The same applies to efficiency – a computer in use only half the day is less valuable than one used throughout the day. The objective of virtualization is to increase the level of utilization in pursuit of more value, efficiency and affordability.


And that’s exactly the theory behind the newly bundled virtualization features in Solaris 10 – from Xen to ZFS, Crossbow to Java (fancy names for the same idea – reducing complexity to increase productivity). Solaris 10’s virtualization enables customers to consolidate the sprawling Linux, Solaris and Windows boxes laying around their datacenters, without having to pay exorbitant software licenses for add-on products. We built virtualization in to Solaris 10 not to encourage fewer computer or storage purchases, but instead, more – systems that are twice as utilized are twice as affordable. (When you double the mileage of a car, more people can afford it.)


What impact did those features have on Sun during Q4? When you use Solaris to consolidate lots of small, poorly utilized computers, into a smaller number of bigger computers, you may depress unit volumes. But you bulk up the configurations of the systems you sell (more memory, more cores and threads, more storage, etc.). That’s exactly what we saw in Q4 – fewer, but more richly configured systems, and not just at Sun. But at HP, Dell and IBM, too.


Why? Because Solaris 10 is now running like a champ on their hardware, as well. It’s being used to consolidate Solaris, Linux – and with this release of OpenSolaris, Microsoft’s Windows, as well. (You can get more info here.


As an integrated feature in the operating system.


Because this is all about efficiency – and the most efficient virtualization solution is the one you didn’t have to pay extra to use.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Sun, Solaris and Bundled Virtualization

  1. Thanks for an excellent summation of Sun’s virtualization efforts. At Zill.Net we use and recommend Solaris with zones for delivering OpenACS and .LRN-based sites. Solaris’ excellent and robust threading helps a lot too. And you are on good footing with your analysis–Say’s Law of Markets still applies to 21st century technology companies as it did in 19th century France.

  2. Well stated Jonathan – the same principals hold true for Sun’s high end storage offerings running virtualization (sun.com/storagetek/virtualization). Increased utilization = value, efficiency, affordability.
    And with Solaris at the heart of our new storage offerings, Sun is one of the few that offers virtualization benefits from the OS to the data store…

  3. Anonymous

    Hi Jonathan…. One quick question… What is Solaris XEN… You link to it, but the link only lets you download it. It doesn’t tell you what it is …

  4. Serge

    Do not make mistake: we’re in XXI century and modern virtualization is a way to go. However, dark side of virtualization is performance and troubleshooting. Here Sun with you and will help you, nowadays, with robust and reliable Solaris 10.

  5. All good points but the best thing about virtualization is that it substantially cuts the people costs for managing your data center at any level of volume and performance. Fewer bigger and more efficient machines just don’t need as many administrative or technical staff to keep them happily up and running. There can be a period of training or recruiting staff with the new skills, but it’s all savings after that.

  6. In response to the “What is Xen?” question above, please see the Xen OpenSolaris community page:
    http://opensolaris.org/os/community/xen/

  7. Anonymous

    If Solaris is ‘open source’, how does Sun plan to make money from the virtualization features present in Solaris? Wouldn’t IBM or HP make use of the same features if there was a significant advantage over VMware?
    With excitement over VMware, is there any concern that virtualization may negatively affect SPARC hardware products?
    Do you consider Sun to be a hardware company or a software company? Do you think that hardware sells software or vice-versa?

  8. Serge

    Sun to be a hardware company or a software company?
    Answer is both.. Sun to be a system company which means it is hardware AND software company.

  9. Kevin

    Please consider buying Terradici – they are competing well with your Sun Ray technology. Thin clients and virtualisation go hand-in-hand.

  10. Gumby

    As far as the stock of Sun Micro, it is still a yawning dog.
    Click here for your amusement… http://t2.images.live.com/images/thumbnail.aspx?q=1228503195109&id=bac3a00d2c75e8aadcfa9d7a41be7ab7
    It is my picked jpeg of a yawning dog!

  11. Chris

    Gumby…
    You are big nuisance to this blog. Do whatever the heck u want with ur stock…
    ‘Frivolity flourishes when authority is absent’. So very true with ur case.

  12. Dear Jonathan Schwartz,
    I am in a sense working on the opposite direction of Xen and Virtualization, working on introducing standalone systems around Sun Solaris, that focuses on local processing power, local storage and local resources, foreseeing that both these concepts will co-exist for years to come.
    Doubling the speed of computers and enabling technologies such as virtualization makes you anti-restrictive, or the opposite of Breakages Limited, again. If you had a narrow perspective that you are incapable of having, that such technologies, if made available, would prolong the lives of aging systems as also make make rival operating systems more usable AND result in lower revenues, you would have been restrictive. But this magic of virutalization technologies and greater speed in your products causing better sales happened because of the inherent belief in goodness.
    There is a logical explanation as well. If you offer a customer the freedom to choose your or your competitors product, the customer senses your own confidence in the strength of your product which radiates onto him. If your competitor says, my product, my browser, my operating system, only my offerings, he might win a customer for sometime, but he as the customer exits at the first available opportunity to freedom.
    Double your speed, triple your speed, the customer isn’t going to be overwhelmed. He has an insatiable appetite. Look at you as a customer for a Laptop. Ten years ago, seems like yesterday, if you had found a laptop that had a 486 processor with 640 MB of storage space connecting to the internet at 33.3 KBPS (if you were lucky), you were amazed and proud. And a day later, today, you are complaining that the laptop with the 640 GB hard disk and 4000 GHz dual core processor connecting to the internet at 2 MBPS isn’t good enough. It is slow. You need a second hard disk. Look at you. You have a very bad memory of yesterday.
    Offer me a computer with a 300 GB hard disk and a 1.3 M pixel camera, I will return from a weekend trip with 5 GB in pictures and videos, make three copies of the file folder in my hard disk which has 150 GB in stored movies and MP3 files. Come back tomorrow and offer me a computer with a 30 TB hard disk and a 10 MP camera, I will get used to it. I will have my living room, garage, parking space and backyard wired to a camera that records a surveillance video 7/24 in high resolution files and beams it to my hard disk for storage that will stay undeleted for months. I will have my refrigerator reporting inventory status to my hard disk.
    Not all growth in computing needs are wasteful, I talked about it just to say that Moore’s law isn’t enough anymore, as a friend from AMD remarked at the Sun Tech Days.In the network areana where Sun has so far played, the computing needs appear unfathomably expanding.
    The customer isn’t happy when you double the speed, may be to some extent if you multiply speed, every six days.
    And, if the laws of Executive shareholding do not restrict you as a citizen to buy SUNW from the open market at public list prices, it is time to buy a few million shares, well before the rest of the world gains an insight into the fortune that it holds
    …….
    (Bug Report, not part of the comment)There is a little bug in the blog page, in the post We Think We can and in this post I experienced difficulty previewing my comment, when i clicked on the preview button it returned the same page, but saying NO COMMENTS, but the post button in We Think We can said your comment is submitted to the moderator, whereas today’s post returns the same page both when Preview button is pressed and the Post button is pressed, saying NO COMMENTS. Happened on both instances when the post is fresh, with 0 comments so far.

  13. This blog’s information is very rich.i very like it

  14. Lee Hepler

    I love all the work SUN is putting into the new products. You’ve got a great team and the SUN just keeps getting hotter and hotter. But I first started loving SUN in the 90s because of your true grasp and implementation of ethics. It shows up in every SUN employee I’ve ever met. It is real not just a company statement. That is why I love to talk with your team members and give them ideas for free.
    I still hope to see SUN virtualization mature into the original idea of grid containers that provide load balancing and failover transparently to the users and administrators. The same theory as with adding disks to ZFS except you add systems to the computing pool and a container can span more than one system to provide increased computing cycles, memory and/or failover for 100% up time. Now that the needed features of clustering and remote memory have been added to the Solaris baseline it would be possible to do a rewrite on virtualization to consolidate all the needed features and produce a streamlined code base with a simplified user interface for virtualization. Grid containers could become to virtualization what ZFS is to file systems. But as you pointed out when I suggested adding Fibre Channel capabilities to the new networking chips, the increased expense may not justify the effort.

  15. Bharath R

    People who still can’t make the connection between Sun’s open source strategy and its revenue should repeat the last sentence of the post to yourself:
    “Because this is all about efficiency – and the most efficient virtualization solution is the one you didn’t have to pay extra to use.”

  16. Personally, I think virtualization is OVERrated. It’s something you already expect. You certainly don’t expect the opposite. I think that the scalability of the Sun product is something that should be focused more upon. Who doesn’t want to scale their business. maybe come up with a tagline like ” As your business scales, Sun scales with you”. I mean that IS what the “S” in SPARC stands for…Scalable Processor ARChitecture. Business understands dollars and cents, speak my language.🙂 Efficiency is important in business, as well. Show me how adding Sun hardware makes my business more efficient, and therby more profitable. At the risk of sounding cliche, “show me the money”.🙂 If we could just come up with a software product that would help our customers increase market share, as if by magic, then we could run the table on software, too. You demand it, we supply it—(TM?).😉
    Mark
    p.s. Just trying to increase Sun profitablity:)

  17. john

    Now if only Sun would offer kick a$$ software workstation that were compile monsters. Hey Jonathan, how about a Sun Solaris branded, tested and certified, 8 core Barcelona software workstation?

  18. And lets not forget Logical Domains or “LDoms,” virtualization for the SPARC architecture. In fact Fabio and David Miller of the Ubuntu community recently got Ubuntu Linux to run as a guest host in LDoms. Not only that but thanks to all their hard work, after only two months, LDom support was added to the 2.6.23 Linux kernel. Thanks guys!

  19. w

    And how do I manage all these goodies? Say I 1000 zones, 500 LDoms, 300 instance of Solaris Xen each using Crossbow. Do I need multiple tools or will Sun provide a single tool to do all this? What is it?

  20. Kevin

    @Chris – you’re missing Jon’s subtle lesson. Jon is accepting all posts, in the same way he’s accepting all the good and bad of Sun. To fix a problem you first have to accept its reality, then go about making intentional positive changes. The old Sun was a schizophrenic problem. Luckily you work at an asylum.

  21. Joel N. Weber II

    I’d love to be able to consolidate the sprawling Solaris machines where I work. We develop software, and currently have to support Solaris 8, 9, and 10 on sparc, as well as Solaris 9 on IA-32 and Solaris 10 on IA-32 and AMD64. We don’t seem to have any good alternative to one physical sparc computer for each Solaris version. And Solaris 9 isn’t supported on VMware ESX, so it’s one of two VMs running on a separate VMware host running a non-ESX version of VMware.
    I think Solaris requires more non-virtualizable physical machines than any other operating system we support.

  22. Jonathan, I think Sun needs a low-end “demo” machine to generate buzz on the power/abilities of Virtualization – if Sun were to offer a small system (somewhere between an Apple Mac Mini and a Sun SPARCstation LX) with the following specifications:
    one 8 core Niagra 2 CPU
    2 Gig of upgradeable RAM
    two 3.5″ internal SATA/SAS drive bays (internal to keep the machine out of the server room and on the desktop)
    Decent graphics capabilities (high resolution, not 3D gaming, to support console displays for all virtual systems)
    Quiet (for office desktop use)
    Such a machine, priced correctly (under, say, $1,200 with “reasonable” specifications), could generate a buzz similar to the one generated when the Ultra 20 was released (“A Sun Workstation for $29.95/month!”), and would be a good vehicle for getting hands-on experience with Solaris’ bundled virtualization tools (with 8 CPU cores to allocate, etc.). From a marketing perspective, you could bundle/co-market it with your existing “Cool Threads” packages, helping to build that branding effort as well. I can almost guarantee every Sun Admin would want one – I’m willing to place my order today ;^)

  23. Brett

    Interesting I Work for a VAR that makes quite a living from Virtualization. We also have quite a SUN base, although that is
    slipping (maybe explains the flat growth for SUN). All the
    technology is great, but the larger problem is that SUN is the follower, and not the leader. This has been going on for almost 7
    years now. Vmware grew 89% this quarter from the same quarter last year… Why? The answer is becuase they came to makret with this several years ago, and built themselves into the leader -the innovator. I work with both Solaris 10 virtualization, and Vmware, beleive you me customers are not picking Solaris 10 virt. over Vmware, and they are not going to. Sun needs to lead again, not look at what’s hot and say gee I’ll come out with somehting similar. It has to be better, and earlier to market. Storage is another prime example of that – Sun says it dropped 10% in the Storage market, I would think all of 10%, I can’t give the stuff away. The iSCSI market is CRUSHING Sun, and hurting HP and the rest, but where is Sun’s offering??? It’s not a fad folks, iSCSI works, cusotmer large and small are moving to it fast, and the likes of Equallogic, and LeftHAnd Networks are reaping the benefits.
    I have worked for many years with Fiber Storage, and the iSCSI
    products are just as good, some are better than a lot FC products.
    I am begging SUN to start leading again, and stiop the following
    the market.
    Don’t even get me starterd on the Sun Blade servers.

  24. We’re a startup and we can’t afford to waste money or precious time. Why we chose Solaris : Open-ness, DTrace, ZFS and Zones. After looking at FreeBSD, Linux and OS X server, we felt that no other Unix or unix derived O/S offered these four critical features. (Although FreeBSD came closest). We view zones and ZFS as a *must-have* tools in building scalable, manageable services for clients.

  25. ScottLasVegas

    http://www.siliconvalley.com/ci_6535900?source=most_viewed&nclick_check=1
    I am a devoted sun lover. I think that the link above is an oportunity for sun to reach a young group of ppl that will help future growth. Its like anything else if you start them young they will stay with you forever. Its amazing what young minds can do. Not to include you will help millions. Sun might need a bit of Good charma..

  26. DavidHalko

    (( [Mark Buckingham] I mean that IS what the “S” in SPARC stands for…Scalable Processor ARChitecture. Business understands dollars and cents, speak my language… Show me how adding Sun hardware makes my business more efficient, and therby more profitable. At the risk of sounding cliche, “show me the money”. ))
    If you have a large corporation with 10 help desk systems, you can consolidate all of those systems & support staff onto a single system.
    Having been there before, this is what we did. We are using an 16 processor SPARC platform with room to add another 8 cores any time we need to add additional capacity.
    We continue to consolidate help desk systems, developers, support staff, and hardware from around the globe. Every year, we deep six another dual or quad processor Intel platform which has no D/R. Each year we take custom build software in C and VB and replace it with off-the-shelf software which is customizable.
    This is a good thing and saves lots of money!

  27. DavidHalko

    (( [Joel N Webber II] I’d love to be able to consolidate the sprawling Solaris machines where I work. We develop software, and currently have to support Solaris 8, 9, and 10 on sparc, as well as Solaris 9 on IA-32 and Solaris 10 on IA-32 and AMD64. We don’t seem to have any good alternative to one physical sparc computer for each Solaris version. ))
    Just buy a midrange SPARC system which supports domains. You can run Solaris 8 in one domain, Solaris 9 in another domain, and Solaris 10 in a third domain.
    I wish SUN would just release an Intel virtual machine for SPARC Solaris, so we can run VMWare with Intel Solaris.

  28. DavidHalko

    I must admit, I agree with Ken Hansen.
    A competitive SPARC workstation would be very nice, if it can be justified economically for SUN.
    Even if it is a 1, 2 or 4 Core Niagra and charge people through the nose for 6 & 8 cores!
    A SUN SPARC Mini with stock PC parts would fit the bill, if SUN could find a reasonable software suite to place on it. For example: SUN TV, SUN Video Chatting, Mozilla Browser, Open Office, SUN Thin Client software, and SUN Instant Messaging (compatible with the majors: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, ICQ.)
    There is a huge hole between workstations and sun rays with SPARC.
    If it can not be done, release an AMD with SPARC emulation (the microcode already does Intel emulation) of a 1 thread Niagra.
    What SUN is missing is the proverbial killer application. Open Office & Mozilla COULD be it, for students, by removing the overhead Windoze tax – but most students see music, pictures & video a standard requirement today.

  29. Sun to be a hardware company or a software company?
    Answer is both.. Sun to be a system company which means it is hardware AND software company.

  30. JJ

    I read this and am filled with "If only…". I guess the real problems don’t percolate up to J Schwartz’s level.
    If only installing OpenSolaris on HP servers didn’t involve hand-editing the driver floppy. If only you could manage the RAID array from Solaris without rebooting.
    If only ZFS wasn’t chock full of performance pathologies.
    If only the iSCSI service didn’t crash every day.
    If only Solaris had a decent packaging system, not the ’80s horror we’re stuck with.
    If only the Xen offering had a management front-end a la VMware, and wasn’t just a raw technology preview.

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