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|Mainframe - A computer
system whose purchase requires the approval of a committee of
all the top executives in the organization.
Mini - A computer system whose purchase requires the approval of your boss and probably some computer bureaucrat.
Micro - A computer system you can buy at your local computer store.
James Brown posting to comp.org.acm
Generally we need to distinguish between several major areas of linux and Solaris applicability:
There is also new fashionable area called virtualization that falls in between those classes. It is essentially and attempt to imitate functionality of multiple low end servers on a mid-range or high-end server. It is connected with the trend to consolidation of servers with extremely low load (circulating air in large corporation IT jargon) that is in a dialectical way signifies the return of good old mainframes on a new level. Actually IBM mainframes survived all adversities and now, more then 40 years after their launch, can proudly host Linux servers. This shrewd IBM move helped to save classic VM/CMS operating system which naturally became VM/Linux.
Currently AIX and VMware are the most popular choice for virtualization based server consolidation but recently Xen made inroads into VMware turf (although the development was financed by Microsoft, it is now supported by IBM).
Generally comparing servers the following two factors should be considered for all classes of servers:
Modern applications are extremely complex with huge code bases. In a sense they are modern engineering marvels. Most of them including Oracle, Java, Apache are quite old. That means that other things equal the key to right selection of the platform is the selection of hardware platform and OS that is used for development of a particular application. If application is developed on a particular platforms and OS then this OS has an important advantage that we will call "home field advantage".
No matter whether you like of hate Java or like or hate Solaris for Java applications Solaris should be considered the No.1 platform as the quality of implementation of Java on Solaris is the highest due to the fact that it is the development platform for Sun Java developers. For Java applications T1/T2 based servers provide an unmatched performance beating much more expensive systems including IBM P5 550 4 core 2GHz Power 5+ in SPECjjb2005 benchmark. It has interesting implications that were first noticed by Paul Murphy in his paper "The megahertz myth and the UltraSPARC T1"[Merphy2006]:
There are some interesting implications here. One of the most subtle, and most important, relates to the competitive advantage the Java Virtual Machine offers Sun in appealing to developers - because, by using its own JVM and Java server software on their test machine Sun demonstrated that the JVM could be used as an easily accessible intermediate technology to let developers take advantage of CMT hardware without doing much additional coding.
For the same reason for most open source application linux is the preferable platform as it serves as a development platform.
Another relatively important factor is the level of interest of the vendor in open source applications. Actually open source applications are extremely important for Sun as the best of their low end CPUs (T1 chips) are multicore and usage of open source application allow completely bypass the issue of paying for multiple cores. This is not true for many commercial applications. As such chips are becoming more and more mainstream they might help to drive the level of support of open source applications and scripting languages in Sun. Sun now support more then a dozen open source applications installed by default ( "out-of-the box" ) on Solaris with the most recent addition of Postgress [Sun2006a]:
Fully integrated into Solaris 10 with flexible support offerings from Sun, Postgress on Solaris 10 is the open source enterprise database platform of choice.
For all "tier-1" open source applications the level of support is equal to the level of support its Sun's own software. And that is a very positive development.
The fact that it in large enterprise environment linux is used only for rather narrow set of roles with web server farms as the most prominent. Beyond this role it its growth is very slow. In many cases RISC-based servers (not necessary Sun) are so entrenched that to replace them with Linux of Intel (or Solaris on Opteron) is very costly and can be done only during big corporate earthquakes like mergers and acquisitions.
I would like to stress it again that in large enterprise environment low end UltraSparc based servers with Solaris are competitive both with linux servers and Solaris on Opteron for several reasons unrelated to CPU, relative quality of those two OSes, or even transactional benchmarks. The main reason for such situation is that proliferation of Unix flavors negatively affects large enterprise environment. And usually linux increases the diversity of enterprise environment not by one unit but by two as very seldom old flavors of Unix are completely displaced and there is a real danger that both Suse and Red Hat will become eventually deployed.
All naive or crooked stories about how corporation ABS saved a couple of million dollars by deploying linux are what it is: naive or crooked. In reality introduction of linux is often dictated by fashion and/or by the inability of higher management to distinguish between real cost cutting measures and fake one: the cost of adding another flavor of Unix in a large enterprise mix easily nullifies any savings in hardware unless one or two existing Unix flavors (for example HP-UX and AIX or HP-UX and Solaris) are completely eliminated from the mix. In this particular area large enterprise environment is quite different from Internet startups; unlike startups large enterprises has history of Unix deployments and significant (and often expensive) installed base of classic enterprise flavors of Unix (AIX, HP-UX and Solaris; often all three of those).
As I noted before this problem in less severe form exists for Solaris too: Solaris SPARC and Solaris on Opteron is still two different OSes (not then much as Red Hat and Suse, but still there are differences because hardware platform are so different). For example Open PROM is not available on Opteron. So objectively there is a cost of introduction additional flavor of Solaris on Opteron into Unix ecosystem too. It is just less then in case of linux. In fact my impression is that the more administrator is qualified in Solaris on UltraSparc the more painful are those small differences that exist between Solaris on UltraSparc and Solaris on Opteron.
That means that large corporate environment generally favors Solaris on SPARC to Solaris on Opteron and paradoxically many Sun Opteron server are used with either Windows or linux as both those OSes have a tattoo on their foreheads: "made for X86 platform".
Of course this is a conservative position and it does not take into account price/performance differences between UltraSparc and Opteron that is another driver of change. But if integer or floating point performance is not crucial for a particular application (which is true for all I/O bound applications) and benchmarks are close there is very little reason to jump the UltraSparc boat: there is nothing in Intel X86 architecture that is intrinsically attractive other then the combination of low cost and high performance bought by hundred of billions spend by AMD and Intel on keeping alive the technology which belongs to late 70th of the last century. I hope that in 2007 Sun eventually will add new CPUs to its lineup as a result of its join product development agreement with Fujitsu. With the Fujitsu PrimePower UltraSparc systems outperforming Sun's SunFire systems (PRIMEPOWER450 (1870MHz) has SPECint2000=1344) and matching Opteron systems this merger of technologies sounds very reasonable and timely.
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