It may take some six to nine months before Linux is ported to its new multicore T1 chip, but Sun Microsystems clearly wants that to happen.
Sun has made T1 servers available to Linux developers and is working with Linux distributors, which the company declined to name, to develop the port.
And while a port may be completed this year, it will be a while before Linux on T1 appears in production environments; application certification and support will be needed as well.
Mike Splain, chief technologist for Sun's Scalable Systems Group, believes Linux running on the company's eight-core chip will open up new options for users who want to run Linux applications in a scaled-up system. "Having multiple operating systems [for the T1] broadens its appeal," he said.
Linux can already run on UltraSparc chips, but there has been little interest in doing so to date. Splain attributed that to technical limitations Linux developers face when building ports. By open-sourcing the engineering specifications, Sun is ensuring that Linux developers now have "the exact same documents that we would use internally," he said.
Moreover, working with the T1 will be easier because it includes a hypervisor, which is similar to a BIOS on an x86 chip, and developers will be able to write to the hypervisor's application programming interfaces. The hypervisor will also eventually include virtualization capabilities, he said. The specifications are available online at www.opensparc.net.
Sun's decision last month to open-source its UltraSparc chip specifications follows the release early last year of the Solaris source code as open-source. In both cases, for the UltraSparc chip as well as the Solaris operating system, Sun is encouraging developers to find new ways to use its systems.
Sun's open-source push is already yielding results. For instance, earlier this month, Blastewage.org, a Solaris open-source development firm said it had ported Solaris to IBM's Power chip.
Computerworld asked IBM for its reaction to that port. In an e-mail, Karl Freund, vice president of IBM Systems Group, called the move "another signal that [the Power chip] has cast a long shadow over Sun's confusing array of processors. It would seem that even Sun and their remaining customers acknowledge the value of our Power innovations."
Karen Anaya, chairwoman and CEO of Sparc International in Campbell, Calif., hailed the plan to open-source the T1. She believes the specification release will boost Linux's capability to run on UltraSparc and said it will draw third-party support. Anaya also said her group expects a T1 port to Linux. "We're excited about it," she said.