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New Oracle Layoffs Probably Signal End of Line for Solaris

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It's beginning to look like it's the end of the line for Solaris, the Unix operating system that became part of Oracle's portfolio when the company acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010. The company is sending out another round of pink slips, mostly affecting hardware and Solaris workers. Although the exact number of employees getting the ax is unknown, most estimates put the figure at somewhere around 2,500. Workers in four states as well as India, are affected. The "pink slips" went out Friday by way of recorded telephone messages. Have a happy Labor Day.

On Monday, in a blog post called The Sudden Death and Eternal Life of Solaris, former Solaris kernel developer and one time Sun executive, Bryan Cantrill, wrote, "It is a cut so deep as to be fatal: the core Solaris engineering organization lost on the order of 90 percent of its people, including essentially all management."

As this might very well be an obituary, I have to add that Solaris was regarded by many as being the best-of-breed Unix OS at the time Big Red took ownership.

Nobody should be surprised; the handwriting has been on the wall for a while. Back in January, ITPro reported an Oracle layoff of 1,800, only a minor adjustment in a workforce totaling 136,000, except that it included 450 workers from the company's hardware division, with many of the others being Solaris developers.

The SPARC server line, which Oracle also acquired in its takeover of Sun, and Solaris are pretty much designed for each other.

Just a few days before the January layoffs, Oracle changed the release road map for Solaris, dropping without comment plans for Solaris 12 and adding something called "Solaris," a rolling release with frequent upgrades. With about 50 percent of its developers being let go only a few days later, it appeared that those "upgrades" would basically consist of security patches meant mainly to keep Solaris 11 on life support, as Oracle has promised to support it until 2034.

Use of both the Solaris operating system and SPARC servers have been in decline since the dot-com bubble burst in the early days of the 21st century. Under both Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems struggled for a decade to get sales of its top-of-the-line hardware back on track, but despite spending a massive amount on research and development for product improvement, the efforts proved unsuccessful, as data center operators began to embrace the use of cheaper commodity hardware. Solaris shared a similar fate. Expensive-to-license Unix began to lose favor to free-to-use -- and Unix-like -- Linux.

By the time Oracle took over Sun's properties, server space was being thrown into further disarray with the advent of both infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a-service clouds, which paved the way for companies to turn an increasing amount of their workloads over to computers they didn't own and could use on demand. Unfortunately for niche sellers like Oracle, most cloud providers aren't buying off-the-shelf servers for their own data centers, but are having them built -- or are building themselves -- to their own specifications. This puts the kibosh on Larry Ellison's plans to meld Oracle's traditional software offerings with its own hardware, IBM-style, to make Big Red the new Big Blue.

While last week's layoffs probably mean the end of Solaris as a proprietary product, they don't necessarily mean that Solaris is through as an operating system. Some time before Oracle acquired Solaris, Sun had released much of the operating system's code under an open source license as OpenSolaris -- which Oracle promptly shut down after it gained ownership. But not before it was forked and released as OpenIndiana, which may or may not receive an uptick in developer interest if Oracle lays Solaris to rest.

It's probably too soon to write an obituary for SPARC, however. Although Oracle's revenue from hardware remains in something of a free fall, Oracle's cloud is built using its own hardware and software, so SPARC will probably remain available for as long as there's an Oracle cloud.

TAGS: DevOps Oracle
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