Solaris Archive

Build your own SPARC workstation with QEMU and Solaris

A great intro to a classic platform by way of emulation and optionally even adapting a real physical keyboard: Back in the late 80s and through the 90s, Unix workstations were super powerful, super cool, and super expensive. If you were making 3D graphics or developing applications, you wanted a high-performance workstation and Sun made some of the best ones. But unless you worked for a huge company, university, or government, they were probably too expensive. More than twenty years later, we have much more powerful and affordable computers, so let’s emulate the old systems and see what it was like to run some of the coolest computers you could buy in the 90s. This is another in the series from the same author as the recently linked virtual NeXT machine, that also includes an entry for a virtual BeBox to experience BeOS.

OpenIndiana Hipster 2021.04 released

After another 6 months have passed we are proud to announce the release of our 2021.04 snapshot. The images are available at the usual place. As usual we have automatically received all updates that have been integrated into illumos-gate. The major changes are new versions of Firefox and Thunderbird, multiple NVIDIA drivers to choose from, and a lot more. For those unaware, OpenIndiana is a distribution of illumos, which in turn is the continuation of the last open source Solaris version before Oracle did what it does best and messed everything up.

Oracle Solaris 11.4 SRU30 released

Solaris is still a thing, even though it’s now developed by a company nobody likes and seems to have lost all of the momentum among enthusiasts, so much so that I doubt anyone will even really care about this news item. Oracle released Solaris 11.4 almost three years ago, and is still updating it with monthly updates. Solaris 11.4 SRU30 is the latest one, released on 16 February. The update consists mainly of updates from upstream packages, but there seems to be little in the way of new features or big improvements. For those, we have to most likely wait until Solaris 11.5 or 12.0, if Oracle ever makes it that far with the formerly open source operating system that they closed back up.

The start of a crazy journey: the SunFire V245

The first step in my crazy experiment to see if you can turn a Sun SPARC server into a workstation has been completed. Thanks to an incredibly generous donation by Jon Rushton, a reader from the UK, I’m now in possession of a SunFire V245 server (I did pay for shipping, of course). The machine has some serious specifications: Two UltraSPARC IIIi 1.5Ghz processors 8 GB of DDR1 RAM Two SAS hard drives (73GB and 140GB) Sun Raptor GFX graphics card (to be replaced by a Sun Quadro FX 3450) The machine has plenty of room for expansion, as well as the usual server features like dual power supplies, lots and lots of fans that no doubt will be incredibly loud, hot-swappable drive bays, remote management ports, and so on. Since I’m still waiting on a few more accessories I needed to purchase in order to setup and use the server – a USB serial console cable and the aforementioned more powerful GPU – I can’t turn it on and use it quite yet. While we wait on those accessories to be delivered, I figured I might as well post a story in the meantime with a bunch of photos of the server. I have a lot of learning to do here, since the server world is not a place I have ever really visited. I’m going to make stumbles along the way, but the end goal is for this server to be a usable workstation – most likely running either Linux or BSD. I can’t wait to get started.

Let’s do something dumb: can we turn a SPARC server into a SPARC workstation?

I don’t do this very often, but I’m turning to you, lovely reader, with a rather strange, obscure, and possibly entirely stupid question. As part of the first major OSNews Patreon project, I’m looking to buy and write several articles about one of the last proper UNIX workstations, and two companies immediately come to mind – SGI and Sun. Since I’m already halfway familiar with Sun’s hardware, and since their machines are more readily available, I’ve opted to look for a proper Sun SPARC workstation. The last true Sun UNIX workstation was the Sun Ultra 45, available with either one or two UltraSPARC IIIi processors. While these 15 year old machines are certainly readily available on eBay, they also happen to command what I think are crazy prices – the dual processor model, which is really the one you should want, goes for about €1200, which is far too pricey for what you get, and that’s excluding shipping, which often adds another several hundred dollars (and possible import taxes, to boot). However, do you know what type of SPARC machines are not crazy expensive, and far newer, faster, and more modern to boot? That’s right – decommissioned Oracle and Fujitsu SPARC servers. There’s tons of videos and articles out there about people buying decommissioned dual or more Xeon servers, slapping a modern graphics card in them, and use them as impractical, slow, and loud workstations or gaming machines. Basically, I want to do the same – buy something like a Sparc T4-1 server, slap some compatible GPU in it somewhere, and use it as a more impractical, slower, and louder workstation. For science. My question is simple. Is it possible to do this, and if so, how on earth would I find out which GPU is even compatible with Solaris or Linux on SPARC? There seems to be very little information available about this use case (I wonder why) and I’m at a loss as to how to figure something like this out. And yes, I know this is stupid. I know this makes no sense. I know no sane person would do this. I know the world will lose nothing if I do not do this. However, if nobody wants to make proper non-x86 UNIX workstations anymore and eBay sellers want to charge a ridiculous premium for 15 year old junkers, why don’t we just build our own non-x86 UNIX workstation? The Wrights brothers didn’t listen to all the haters, and considering this project would make about as much noise as a passenger jet, why should I? And wouldn’t you want to be part of this crazy journey? I mean, do you know anyone else crazy enough to even entertain a ridiculous, impractical, and stupid idea such as this? I thought so.

Solaris 10 zones on Tribblix

One of the interesting capabilities of Solaris zones was the ability to run older versions of Solaris than that in the global zone. Marketing managed to mangle this into Containers, and it was supported for Solaris 8 and Solaris 9. I used this extensively on one project, to lift a whole datacenter of ancient (yes, really ancient) Sun servers into zones on a couple of T5240s. Worked great. Ah yes, Solaris. One of Larry Ellison’s many, many casualties. Tribblix is a Solaris distribution that should feel familiar to longtime Solaris users, but with a set of modern packages on top.

PowerPC Solaris on the RS/6000

One of the weirdest times in computing was during the mid-90s, when the major RISC vendors all had their own plans to dominate the consumer market and eventually wipe out Intel. This was a time that led to overpriced non-x86 systems that intended to wipe out the PC, Windows NT being ported to non-x86 platforms, PC style hardware paired with RISC CPUs, Apple putting the processor line from IBM servers into Macs, and Silicon Graphics designing a game console for Nintendo. While their attempts worked wonders in the embedded field for MIPS and the AIM alliance, quite a few of these attempts at breaking into the mainstream were total flops. Despite this, there were some weird products released during this period that most only assumed existed in tech magazine ads and reviews. One such product was Solaris for PowerPC. Now Solaris has existed on Intel platforms for ages and the Illumos fork has some interesting ports including a DEC Alpha port, but a forgotten official port exists for the PowerPC CPU architecture. Unlike OS/2, it’s complete and has a networking stack. It’s also perhaps one of the weirdest OSes on the PowerPC platform. I love machines from this era. There’s some seriously weird hardware from that time floating around eBay for serious prices.

OpenIndiana Hipster 2020.04 released

OpenIndiana Hipster 2020.04 has been released. All OpenIndiana system software was rewritten in Python 3. Installation images now don’t deliver Python 2.7 interpreters or libraries, however some software still requires Python 2.7. We’ve moved to GCC 7 as the default compiler. OpenIndiana Hipster is a rolling release distribution of illumos, which in turn traces its roots back to OpenSolaris. The original intent of illumos was to replace the closed source parts of OpenSolaris with open source ones, but after Oracle discontinued OpenSolaris, illumos grew into a full-blown fork of OpenSolaris.

Solaris 11.4 SRU20 released

We’ve just released SRU 20 for Oracle Solaris 11.4, the April 2020 CPU. It is available via ‘pkg update’ from the support repository or by downloading the SRU from My Oracle Support Doc ID 2433412.1. The administrator of my organisation needs to supply me with a Support Identifier before I can do something as simple as read the documentation about this new version, so I have no idea what to tell you. I guess Solaris technically isn’t dead yet?

SPARCbook 3000ST: the coolest 90s laptop

A few weeks back I managed to pick up an incredibly rare laptop in immaculate condition for $50 on Kijiji: a Tadpole Technologies SPARCbook 3000ST from 1997 (it also came with two other working Pentium laptops from the 1990s). So, what makes this the coolest laptop of the 1990s? I used to long for a Tadpole SPARC laptop about 15 years ago, when they came with dual processor models. Amazing technology.

SunSolve Resurrected Independent of Oracle

If you have ever administered Sun machines, updates were a big part of your work. In the past, information about them were available on SunSolve, the Sun support website, to help sysadmins sort everything out. SunSolve has been decomissioned by Oracle and its replacement hasn't received a warm welcome from the Solaris community due in large part to technologies used (Flash,...). We Sun Solve was created to avoid this problem.

OpenSolaris Board Quits En Masse

The OpenSolaris governing board fell on its collective sword Monday and resigned en masse after Oracle continued to ignore its ultimatum to appoint a liaison guy to work with it on the future of the open source project. The move was anticlimactic to say the least. Oracle last week leaked an internal e-mail into the wild effectively saying OpenSolaris is dead. The news of the mass resignation, coupled with Oracle suing Google claiming Android infringes on its Java patents, had Adobe's director of open source and standards David McAllister casting Oracle as the New Microsoft and saying "the axis of evil has shifted south about 850 miles or so".

Oracle Kills OpenSolaris, Moves Development Behind Closed Doors

Well, Oracle went from one of those big enterprise-serving companies most of us don't deal with to one of the more hated companies in our little community. Not only did they just sue Google over Android and its use of Java-related technologies, they also just officially killed off OpenSolaris. Solaris will still be open source, but source code will only come after each major release - development will happen behind closed doors.

Possible OpenSolaris Fork?

A recent vague announcement on osol-announce hints that something big is rumbling for OpenSolaris: "A number of the community leaders from the OpenSolaris community have been working quietly together on a new effort called Illumos, and we're just about ready to fully disclose our work to, and invite the general participation of, the general public." They have a website, and they're going to be hosting a conference call on August 3.

RIP OpenSolaris

A Computerworld blog speculates that the open-source Unix distribution may live on, but Oracle won't be supporting it. At this point, "OpenSolaris' only real future is as a fork, which would not be easy to pull off. Still, with enough interest from developers it could be done. OpenSolaris is licensed under the GPLv3 CDDL and various other OSS licenses, so the base code is available."