Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

A Different Kind Of Open Source

Before we leave The Week Of Sun Coverage entirely, I want to take a brief look at the announcement that was in some ways the most interesting news of the week -- its plans to open-source some of the chip specs and instruction set code for the multi-core, multi-thread UltraSPARC T1, under the auspices of a new effort called the OpenSPARC Project.
I almost feel, in fact, like this should be a blog entry for Developer Pipeline, not here. I can't really remember anything quite like this before; we're all accustomed at this point to seeing open source software, but hardware? And on a platform that Sun needs to do well, too.

The idea is fascinating, in that the expectation is that software developers can optimize their code to be more tightly integrated with the hardware instructions. It hardly requires a leap of fancy to see what that could mean for an enterprise server, particularly in a multi-thread environment. One thing every server administrator wants is for apps to hit the processor efficiently, with 100% CPU usage and totally unbottlenecked distribution being nirvana, so to speak. Smart apps written by people with access to the workings of the chip itself, with major core and threading power available, could result in some very good servers at a price/performance ratio that begins to again rival x86.

But, how many people are used to even thinking that way? Is a whole generation of server software going to be rewritten in OpenSolaris and Linux to take advantage of this opportunity? Sun's answer is essentially "Why not?" Indeed. But I don't think this sort of strategic development has been anticipated at all; it's going to take people some time to get their heads around the idea before much happens, I think.

As for Sun, I'll simply pass along its FAQ answer for what they expect to get out of this: "We expect this open source strategy will help create new markets for the 64-bit, multithreading features offered by UltraSPARC T1 and its derivatives. As in software, innovation happens everywhere, and the hardware community can make huge strides with current, accessible, low-cost technology at their fingertips. With added 'eyes' addressing the challenges and opportunities around multithreading and 64-bit processes, Sun's products - along with new products by other companies - can evolve more quickly and attract more customers."

In other words, Sun wants to both entice companies looking to save server budget money and, perhaps more importantly, rebuild the Sun ecosystem for hardware and software with its open source initiatives on both fronts. OpenSolaris has been downloaded plenty of times, and you have to think that it's not an idle effort for anyone doing so. So maybe something will come of all this down the road. Or, maybe not. It's all virgin territory right now.