Reasons why people are switching from Solaris to Linux

I met up this week with one of my friends that I haven’t seen in a while. We chatted about life, work and eventually started chatting about Linux and Solaris (we are both SysAdmins). My friend mentioned that his company had decided to quit buying Sun hardware in favor of Dell servers running Redhat Linux Advanced Server. I was shocked to hear this since my friend had actively pushed Solaris in the past, and was one of the folks I regularly got together with to discuss new technologies merged into Nevada. His company has numerous concerns surrounding Solaris 10 manageability and Sun’s lack of ACTIVE support for commonly used opensource packages. We chatted about this for hours over cocktails, and both came to the conclusion that Sun needs to do something to address the following problems with Solaris:

1. Solaris doesn’t ship with a working and supported LAMP stack (I should probably say SAMP stack). My friend’s company is frustrated with having to manually download and build Apache, MySQL, and PHP on their Solaris boxes, and chose to move to Redhat Advanced server to get a working and SUPPORTED LAMP solution out of the box. I am not sure why Sun can’t ship a working and supported SAMP stack with Solaris. This seems like a no brainer to me.

2. Several of the developers at my friends company have transitioned to Fedora Core on their desktops, since the desktop looks pleasant, wireless works out of the box for most chipsets, eclipse is an installation option, and there is a full suite of applications available after the installation. The Fedora Core desktop is quite a bit more usable that JDS (if you don’t believe me, install Fedora Core 5 side-by-side with JDS), so developers have jumped all over it (at least those that don’t use Windows). Sun really needs to do something to improve desktop usability, and they should use the GNOME release from versus their own variant. They also need to do something to address package management, either by adopting blastwave or developing a decent remotely-accessible package repository.

3. Redhat Linux ships and provides regular updates for numerous opensource software (e.g., postgres, MySQL, Apache, Samba, Bind, Sendmail, openssh, openssl, etc), where Sun keeps trying to sell customers the Sun Java One stack, “modifies” an opensource package and diverges the product from what is available everywhere else, and fails to provide timely bug fixes and security patches for the opensource packages that are shipped (Apache, MySQL and Samba are perfect examples) with Solaris. Sun really needs to get some folks focused on supporting the opensource solutions people use, versus shipping opensource software and letting the bits rot.

4. Several key ISVs are pushing Linux and Windows over Solaris, and have switched from Solaris to Linux as their tier I development platform. This typically means that developers will squash more platform-specific bugs in their product prior to shipping it, since they are using that platform daily. Sun needs to do more to get developers writing code on Solaris, since this helps Sun customers in the end.

5. Managing applications and patches on Solaris systems is a disaster, and redhat’s up2date utility is not only efficient, but has numerous options to control the patch notification and update process. This can also be used along with Redhat’s satellite server to provide Enterprise wide patch and application management. While Sun kicked off an effort to address the patch and installation process, I wonder if it will be too little too late.

6. Staying on the cutting edge with Nevada is difficult, since there is currently no way to easily and automatically upgrade from one release of Nevada to another. On Fedora Core servers, you can run ‘yum upgrade’ to get the latest bits. Having to download archives and BFU is tedious, and most admins don’t want to spend their few spare cycles BFU’ing to new releases.

7. Zones are unusable at my friend’s site, since there is currently no way to filter traffic between zones, apply QOS measures to memory, I/O and network resources, and patching a box with zones can take days in some cases (I have experienced this first hand. If you want to see, install Solaris 10, create 25 non-sparse zones, and run smpatch update). Addressing these items would allow SysAdmins to actually patch their systems, and would allow folks to sleep at night knowing that the QOS measures will protect rogue applications from taking down their servers.

8. The Solaris opensource movement was great, but in our opinions it is very much closed to the outside world. How many people outside of Sun have actually done ARC reviews, code reviews, or applied a putback to the kernel source tree (there may be cases, but I can’t find them on This is definitely not something that can happen overnight, but people who have to wait in a queue for a sponsor, or worse yet are ignored (I filed a bug 3-months ago and asked to work on it, and have yet to hear back from Sun) when they try to fix something, will cause people to join communities where their voice actually matters.

That said, Solaris 10 is an awesome Operating System, and comes with some incredible technologies (e.g., ZFS, DTrace, FMA, etc). I truly do hope that Sun takes some steps to address these issues, since it will hopefully lead to further adoption of Solaris.

11 thoughts on “Reasons why people are switching from Solaris to Linux”

  1. I can understand the reason to move to Linux, based on the reasons you’ve laid out, but there’s still a pretty compelling reason to stay with Sun hardware. The new x64 line runs Linux fabulously (I’ve got a several running SuSE) and with features like reduced the power consumption and the 64-bit Operons, they’re more advanced than anything Dell is putting out.

  2. I have some concerns with the supportability of Sun hardware running Linux and Windows. It might work, but trying to get bugs and performance issues addressed is a different issue. Dell has made Redhat Linux and Windows server 2003 tier one Operating Systems, and will assist customers with locating fixes for Linux and Windows server problems. I dig the X4x00 line of servers, but I only feel comfortable running x86 Solaris 10 on them at this time.

  3. Regards #7 – do you know of a virtualization/emulation technology that solves the “gotta patch ’em all” issue
    and better than sparse zones?

  4. Solaris doesn’t come default shipped with SAMP but you can install the SAMP package off the Solaris Companion CD and it only takes a few minutes to get running. See

    So Solaris doesn’t have badass package or update management.. that’s what admins are for, and thats the extra few minutes you spend to run something that is rock solid. I’d rather trust my own judgement than running “yum update” and depending on it behind the scenes to do everything without flaws.

    Linux is probably a better choice if you are looking for ease of use and better driver support (Desktop machine) but I wouldn’t run it in a production (Server) environment.

  5. Once upon a time, I landed in a small startup company that promised the possibility to run their operation. They were looking for a UNIX system engineer, they said, and they needed someone that knew Solaris and Linux they said.

    Well their “server” park was a total chaos of all kinds of Linux flavors on vanilla PCs, and they only had two Solaris machines.
    Every time I tried to improve their situation they kept opposing the introduction of more Solaris and kept insisting on DELL and Linux and Windows.

    When an opportunity presented itself for me to contract at a BIG financial institution and work on Solaris, I quit on the spot. It has been a decision I’ve never regretted.

    My point is, if Linux came along, I’d quit. I’ve done it before, and I’d do it again.

  6. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the posts to the list and the feedback in my BLOG. The bug I was referring to resides in the ‘w’ utility. After root causing the bug in the ‘w’ utility, I came up with a couple of solutions, and proposed these on the opensolaris-code mailing list hoping I would get some feedback and suggestions. No one had the time or interest in replying, so I created CR #6384341 with the option “submitter wants to work on bug,” and sent an offer to fix this to the request-sponsor list. I didn’t hear back from anyone, so I gave up and moved on to debugging other stuff. Since opensolaris is a relatively new community, hopefully these types of kinks will get worked out over time.

    Thanks for the comment,
    – Ryan

  7. Hi Derek,

    Since Sun is already distributing Apache with Solaris 10, why not incorporate the modules people actually use into the product they ship? If Sun doesn’t want to support Apache or the modules that are bundled with it, I am curious why they don’t just remove Apache from the software they deliver to customers?

    Hope your having a nice weekend,
    – Ryan

  8. Not really sure on that one :) That makes sense.. the only thing I can think is they are trying to keep extra things such as SAMP on the Companion CD. I don’t see why you would need it on a regular install.

  9. Point 1: I never used installed LAMP/SAMP on a production system, I always build my own. You never know when a vendor patch will break your configuration or libexec modules you have added. LAMP/SAMP is great for development enviroments. What is supported LAMP anyway??? If you have a problem and you have your support through DELL, goes DELL->Red Hat->Apache etc, or mailing list, with DELL being the call center, Red Hat being the gopher, and the community fixing you problem. 99% of problems with LAMP problems are better solved using google.

    Point 2: Yes Gnome 2.6 does suck nowdays. The good news is they are jumping from 2.6 to 2.14.1 (at the moment), and will be should keep up with the gnome release schedule. About time….

    Point 3: Sun generally release apache (and some of the others) relatively quickly (generally depends on the value of the update and if somebody has placed a support call). The pace that I am seeing OpenSolaris is ramping up, I think this issue will soon be in the past tense.

    Point 4: Yes, some are switching, some have switched, and now some are switching back. Where I last worked, management were trying to switch from Solaris to Linux because Linux was free. Their whole argument was a couple of years late, as we had been dowloading Solaris for free, and the costs they were seeing were actually support costs. A quick look at the Red Hat website showed that Red hat was over 200% more expensive.

    Point 5: Patches – having been bitten a couple of times allowing redhat to update kernel patches (next reboot wasnt pretty), I now dont use Red Hat period. On Solaris I have all of their so called automated tools, and like up2date, they were thrown out, and I went back to the tried and true patch clusters + favourites. Yes, zones currently are a pain in the ass to patch.

    Point 6: Have you looked at live upgrade? I have been using it for some time now on nevada and I works really well. I have just installed build 38 and it was the first one for awhile that I havent used live upgrade as Sun release notes said it is broken in this release (yes they do test their releases). Dont know if it currently works with zones, as I have automated scripts to rebuild the zones.

    Point 7: Unless you write a DTRACE hack, you have a point. I think this is being addressed in the open solaris porject crossbox at the moment. I dont see how running Red Hat will help.

    Point 8: The OpenSolaris project has only been going for a short period of time. There have been some external contributers which have paired up with a Sun engineer to make changes to core Solaris. As a Sun customer, I would prefer that Sun totally supervise any change to their core product. I have recently posted some gnome spec build files to the opeensolaris website, and within a couple of hours they were tested and add to the project (Note: these were addons for Gnome, not the Solaris Release).

  10. Older thread but, unfortunately, many of the points you raise are still true (among many more).

    I started with Solaris and would rather continue with it; however the boss feels differently.

    My major concern is with hardware issues. Out of the 12 X2200’s we have purchased in the last few months we have had 3 failed drives, 3 failed motherboards, a flaky nic, and two machines left with yet-to-be determined hardware issues.

    Once Solaris 10 is up and running on them, they are great (despite the wonderful, but yet mysterious, boot-archive hassles).
    I still will never trust them again.

    On the other hand, the 4 X4100M2’s are running Bind like gang-busters with Centos 5. (and the iloms are nice(r)).

    A feature that would mimic the simple setup and management of ip-failover apps like, “keepalived”, or, “carp”, would also be nice in Solaris. Many systems in our environment are using such applications. But, according to the openSolaris forums, developers would rather see the cumbersome, Sun Cluster, fit that role.

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