Thursday, December 30, 2010

Watching the SUN Set


SUN Microsystems found itself on shaky ground after posting losses fiscal quarter after fiscal quarter. The company had a very large offering of hardware and software but was not able to capitalize on the goods and services they were selling. Around 2008 the ship began to sink so to speak. SUN agreed to purchase MySQL on Jan 16, 2008 for approx 1 billion dollars. This was a major deal because MySQL was the most popular open source database used in countless LAMP installations across the globe. SUN also owned the rights to many different software applications including the JAVA programming language which it had developed.


One of the reasons SUN was failing to turn a profit on any of it's technology portfolio was due to its stance on open sourcing everything it had to offer. MySQL, VirtualBox, and Solaris were just a few of titles which anyone could freely download an use. Sure, they did make some revenue off of these products through support contracts but for the most part they were not able to turn a profit. The CEO was a big open source software advocate and helped propagate this philosophy throughout the company regardless of the outcome. Open source supporters such as myself loved this way of thinking and took full advantage of all the free software SUN had to offer. Paying for a database, operating system, or even an office suite was not necessary because SUN would give you all of these things and more, best of all, it was 100% free of charge.

SUN hardware was another key component in the companies technology offerings. Although the hardware was not free the company did offer affordable solutions for SPARC and x86 architectures. This hardware coupled with technologies such as Solaris were very reliable and a popular platform choice for mission critical enterprise applications. Despite having a good product the company continued to post fiscal losses every quarter. This drove some people to become skeptical about the company and it's products which in turn lost them even more revenue and ultimately led to their downfall.


On April 20, 2009 SUN Microsystems was purchased by the Oracle corporation for 7.4 billion dollars. That day marks the moment in time where the SUN began to set in the technology world. The events that followed would signify the end of an era and the transformation from free to far from it.

Following the announcement of Oracle's intent to purchase SUN a long drawn out anti-trust debacle was off and running. The United States had given the okay for the Oracle purchase the European Union was another story all together. The European commission was crying foul over Oracle possibly owning MySQL and a lengthy anti-trust investigation. During this time MySQL cofounder Michael "Monty" Widenius plead to the EU to block the merger even going as far as starting the Help MySQL petition.

The drawn out litigation in Europe made SUN customers even more nervous. Companies such as HP and IBM started offering extremely generous discounts to current SUN customers for trading in their hardware and switching to one of the systems they offered. IBM had previously been in talks with SUN about purchasing them and probably felt jilted when Oracle came in out of nowhere and bought the company out from under them. These competitive activities were impacting company revenues and driving them even lower than they currently were. Along with the fact that Oracle could not do anything to stop them because the merger had not yet been completed.

The EU commission finally handed down the ruling in favor of Oracle in January of 2010. Almost a year after the initial announcement it was finally official and the EU had been defeated by the lawyers working for the Oracle corporation. Following the announcement Oracle began attempting to reassure the remaining SUN customer base and fired up the PR machine into high gear.


After having a few months to get it's image corrected and business strategy developed the inevitable end starts to begin. Open source supporters knew that Oracle did not operate like SUN what so ever. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison rules with an iron fist and squeezes every penny out of every product in their portfolio. This philosophy is worlds away from the SUN community driven process.

Products that overlapped began to get eliminated and large amounts of skepticism were surrounding the hardware business and Solaris operating system. Oracle already had an operating system Oracle Unbreakable Linux. Their Linux distrobution was nothing more than a copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that had a few splash screens and config files rebranded. The fact that they had already been selling and supporting Linux made Solaris look like a dying breed. Product road maps and company representatives promising that was not the case was the only thing keeping Solaris supporters hopeful.

Open Solaris however was another story entirely. Open Solaris was the community driven version of Solaris that was typically the testing ground for features that would eventually be merged into the main line Solaris distrobution. Since Open Solaris was considered one of the many open source offerings it had to be euthenized. Open Solaris was a community driven collaboration but the community required participation from Oracle. The Open Solaris Governing Board had been attempting to work with it's new parent company but had been unsuccessful. This lead to the OGB delivering an ultimatum to Oracle for appointing a new liaison by August 16, 2010 to work collaboratively with them. Oracle continued to treat the OGB as though they didn't exist and ultimately was able to kill off Open Solaris for the most part when the OGB disbanded out of protest.

While the Open Solaris project was dealing with the cold shoulder Oracle was busy working toward maximizing profits. The Solaris operating system was open sourced by SUN Microsystems. That meant anyone who felt like it could download and run Solaris UNIX on their own systems without paying any royalty fees. Oracle looked to change that and did so successfully when they quietly modified the Solaris terms of use. The new terms stated that you could download and use Solaris for a period of 90 days after which you would need to purchase a service contract from Oracle. Along with the 90 day limitation you were also no longer allowed access to security patches without paying for a service agreement. This move was the death blow to anyone using Solaris as if it was still free. You had to cough up money to run the operating system or find yourself out of compliance and unable to update your system.


The new philosophy of Oracle was not well received and important people began to run away from the company. Key employees from SUN were now leaving for greener pastures. People such as the father of ZFS Jeff Bonwick, DTrace co creator Bryan Cantrill, Lead Solaris developer Greg Lavender, and even James Gosling the "Father of Java". It seemed like every week another former SUN employee was leaving Oracle. The stories were somewhat vague but they all seemed to have one thing in common which was a conflict of interest in the direction and management of the company.

Oracle was out to do whatever it wanted. It began renaming and re-branding the SUN products as quick as possible. It was also working on killing off the sun websites and migrating everyone to These things are to be expected but the actions did not come without consequences. Worried about getting everything renamed and not having the foresight to investigate possible problems or document changes they wound up with a bunch of angry developers on their hands. Oracle pushed out a java update which renamed the company and subsequently broke the Eclipse development program

Java was the real prize in the eyes of Oracle. The "misuse" of JAVA by google was considered a lawsuit that would result in a large financial gain. James Gosling was quoted as saying the lawyers eyes lit up when the situation was discussed. Mr. Gosling also attempted to start a Free Java movement but it would not matter in the end. Oracle forces its way forward despite anyone trying to stand in their way.

Oracle's proprietary tactics had created quite a few enemies in the open source world. One of which was an extremely large and influential group called the Apache Software Foundation. The JAVA language was guided by a community of collaborators. The Java Community Process JCP was headed up by the executive committee who would vote on the direction of the new releases and features. Oracle refused to grant the a TCK license for the ASF project Harmony. Apache unsuccessfully voted against Oracles proposed direction for JAVA and finally got fed up resigning their JCP seat.

Sound familiar? It should, it is the exact same tactics that Oracle used to eliminate the Open Solaris governing board. Refusing to be open minded and taking the my way or the high way approach. The sad thing here is that it seems to be working just fine for them. After snubbing Apache's request for a license for project Harmony things got interesting. In a move that most people did not see coming Oracle announced they were teaming up with IBM on OpenJDK . IBM was previously part of project Harmony which allowed Oracle to strong arm them into complying and participating. Two birds with one stone, they snubbed ASF and stole one of their supporters in IBM. Project Harmony is Android friendly which is most likely the driving force behind Oracles dastardly tactics.


Now that most of the pesky open source projects that SUN was supporting have been monetized or killed what does the future hold? Projects such as Virtual Box, Open Office, and MySQL will most likely be next. One way or another Oracle will find a way to profit from them or at the very least control to such an extend that nobody wants to use them. Watching the SUN set has been truly sad for open source supporters. It is amazing that a company which boasts so many open source projects can just go out and kill off entire communities and strong arm everyone else into submission. They have truly had their cake and proceeded to eat it as well. They have been able to walk the fine line balancing between the open source world and their own proprietary mission.

So what now? The worst part of this entire process was witnessing how open source has evolved to the point of being a threat. Then systematically being defeated by a hard nosed company out to make money on every angle possible. I would not be surprised to see their website migrated to a pay per view model. The game plan worked flawlessly which allowed them to take over ownership of intellectual properties and then eliminating entire communities that were set up to help control the direction of the future. Amazing how the open source projects and collaborators were squeezed to death as though a giant anaconda was constricting them until they could no longer breath and function. What will the next move be in this epic battle of proprietary vs. free? Only the future knows but I can guarantee whatever happens will be beneficial to Oracle one way or another.

Technology Certifications

The current state of the Information Technology field is more competitive than ever. The number of job seekers far outweighs the number of jobs available. Currently IT employment is harder and harder to obtain. New job seekers continue to enter the market but the overall number of opportunities are shrinking. This is definitely a sellers market so to speak. In order to compete against other job seekers you really have to make yourself stand out in a crowd.

Over saturation of prospective employees has allowed businesses to set qualifications at an all time high. The possibility of getting employed without experience is not looking good. Recent graduates hoping to land a job might have a hard time achieving their goal. Companies are looking to consolidate job duties into positions that can perform multiple functions. Sure there are still jobs out there that allow you to specialize in a specific area but more often than not you will need to possess a wide range of skills. Programmers are expected to know more than one language or maybe even some back end administration. The competitiveness of job seekers has propagated this new trend and it doesn't look like it will go away any time soon.

So how might you differentiate yourself during these cut throat days of working in the IT field? One way to make yourself stand out in the crowd is through certifications. A 4 year college degree is a great thing and a wonderful starting point. After graduation the next step is real world employment. The problem is most companies want someone who has experience and you can't obtain experience without being employed. Just getting a company to call you back once they look at your resume has become difficult.

Certifications in the technology field can give you the edge needed to get your foot in the door and start your career. A industry recognized certification can help validate your level of comprehension in the eyes of an employer. A certification can be the difference between getting a call and getting a thanks but no thanks letter in the mail. There are a large number of certifications provided by a vast amount of vendors and organizations. Being certified in a specific technology gives potential employers a "security blanket" in a way. Your certification validates your skill set and automatically lets people know that at least you know what your doing to some extent.

Obtaining certifications can be a daunting task. Some certs will require a long list of exams which measure various levels of your comprehension. You will need to study the material and most likely work with the specific technology enough to understand various intricacies. The nice thing about becoming certified is that you only need time and the money to take the exams. There are some certifications that strictly require hands on experience, however, most of them you can obtain as long as you have enough money to sit for the exam.

All certifications are not created equal. Since there are multiple vendors offering various certs some are more marketable than others. If you hope to work on computers then perhaps the A+ certification would be of interest for you. However if you want to work with computer networks then perhaps the Network+ cert is more appropriate. Although an employer looking to hire someone to work on their network would probably prefer a CCNA instead.

A system administrator might hold the MCTS certification which would make them a strong candidate for an available job. Then they are informed they did not get the job because someone who holds the MCITP has applied for the position. If you were wanting to be a Linux administrator you might obtain a variety of certifications such as Linux+, LPIC, or RHCE.

The number of certifications can be overwhelming. Whatever you choose to do in the IT field a certification certainly cannot hurt. There are some in the industry who view certifications as merely a piece of paper but there are also those who view them as a required level of understanding. To help yourself stand out in the crowd becoming certified is an excellent challenge.

If you have the opportunity to continue your education and obtain various certifications then take full advantage. I personally am quite satisfied with my current employer but that does not stop me from pursuing more certifications. Currently I hold the SCSA for Solaris 9 & 10, Security+, and C|EH certifications. I hope to one day obtain the CISSP but it will not be easy by any means.

I encourage you to work towards obtaining certifications for yourself. The fact that employers prefer and a large amount of job seekers have obtained certs should be a wake up call. These pieces of paper are becoming more important than ever before. Work on them for yourself and your future because they can open a lot of doors that might otherwise be closed in this tuff economy. This information might not be anything new to you but you should realize that if you are not trying to get ahead you are falling behind.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Linux Process Prioritization

It can become annoying while waiting on your Linux system to complete a long process. Whatever the process might be you can help speed things along and give more cpu shares to your task. The top command lets you see the current processes running on your Linux machine. One of the columns you will see is the PR which stands for priority.

The lower the PR number the more cpu shares your process will get. The way to manipulate process priorities is with the nice and renice commands. For example, I have VirtualBox running an installation on my system. The top command is reporting alot of free cpu % because VirtualBox is getting it's resources capped due to the current priority.

sudo renice -20 pid

The pid will need to be the id of the process you are wanting to manipulate. In this case we are running renice and setting a priority of -20 (the lower the better) on our process id. Once complete our PR value changes from 20 to 0 and our NI value changes to -20. This dedicates more cpu power to our task and will hopefully cut down on the time it takes for our process to complete.

The same thing can be done to lower the importance of a process.

sudo renice 20 pid

The command above will raise the priority of the process matching our pid. The effect of raising the PR value will cause the process to get less system resources. This can be handy if your running a large task and want to use the system for other things at the same time.

Please note that nice and renice are common Linux/Unix tools however the syntax of the command is not always the same. The example above was from an Ubuntu system. On other distrobutions you might have to add flags such as -n or -p to make this command work. When in doubt check your manpages

man renice

Solaris 10 installation

After fighting with the shortcomings of OpenSolaris I have decided to install Solaris 10 inside of VirtualBox. Once the installation is complete I will have a running instance of Solaris 10 with a ZFS root file system. This virtual machine will be used to create future articles regarding the magical things you can do with Solaris.

The Solaris 10 installation is straight forward and much like any common Linux distrobution. You are asked a few questions about your system and then presented with an installation type. I chose the entire distrobution option in order to get a graphical desktop on this virtual machine. If this was a production system I would have selected the core installation option which is a much smaller package set. If you do choose the core option for your system you will have to add in additional packages from the installation media if you want to use features such as zones.

The downside to choosing the entire distrobution is the added packages that you most likely won't need or use. These packages then get inherited by zones when you create them. This adds to the package counts for your local zones when they are created. When it is time to perform system patching you will need to account for extra time on systems that have chosen the entire distrobution option. More packages will add to more patches that your system needs to stay up to date and secure. Just some things to think about if you are going to be serious about your Solaris system.

The ZFS root filesystem option must be chosen after booting from the installation media. You will need to specify 3 or 4 for your initial installation choice if you wish to select the ZFS filesystem later on during your system installation. Once completed I will have a virtual machine running Solaris 10 on x86_64 with ZFS. The traditional UFS filesystem will work fine but you will have to setup partitions (slices) for your system. With ZFS the entire disk is allocated to the root pool and can be divided on the fly later on using various system commands to create filesystems under the ZFS root along with other tasks such as applying partition limits.

Oracle now owns the rights to all things SUN. Even the SUN website now redirects to a page containing an oracle header. Oracle has stated they plan to continue investing in Solaris which will most likely "SPARC" growth of this operating system.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

China, Microsoft, and why you should be afraid

Google getting hacked in China has been all over the Internet this last week. There has been speculation that the Chinese government is the party responsible for hacking Google and up to 30 some firms operating in China.

The initial blame went to Adobe but upon further review it was revealed that the hackers gained access to these systems through a 0 day exploit in the Internet Explorer web browser.

First of all......... Google what are you doing using Internet Explorer at work???

Now we have got that out of the way lets take a look at this a little deeper.

The technology sector moves quick and forgets even faster. Had I not been an open source advocate for over 10 years I probably would have forgotten all about the headlines from 2003-2004 when Microsoft GAVE CHINA A COPY OF THE SOURCE CODE! This has been covered before but everyone in today's tech sector must have just forgot. This attack in China against Internet Explorer should not be a surprise by any means. It most likely took them a few years to review the code to find exploits such as the one that was used to compromise and monitor all of these systems.

This attack was noticed and tracked back to the source ( Chinese Government ). The best hacks are the ones which occur without being detected by the victim. How long would this have gone on if it was not discovered?

Other countries are recommending people get rid of Internet Explorer because it has so many security issues. With the code used for the attacks now available online combined with no fix from Microsoft, when will the rest of the world (specifically the United States) learn from these mistakes and leave Microsoft behind?

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