'Micro-server' makes the case for Solaris on Power

Some IT users may question the need for running Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris operating system on IBM's Power processor -- something the chip wasn't designed for. But for Solaris developer Dennis Clarke, running the operating system on Power makes perfect sense.

Clarke runs Blastwave.org, a Cobourg, Ontario-based company that develops open-source software for Solaris. He has designed a computer that can be used as a desktop or what he calls a "micro-server" using a Power chip made by Austin, Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor Inc.

The particular Power chip he uses was designed for embedded systems, said Clarke, giving him options not available on UltraSparc chips used for business machines. The chip, for instance, can handle extreme temperature conditions, is relatively low cost and -- even when a disk dive is added -- the system uses less than 10 watts without a monitor. It also doesn't need a fan.

"It's super low power and requires no cooling," said Clarke, who is selling it for US$499 for use as a development platform or networking device. The system uses a motherboard by Genesi USA Inc. in San Antonio, a company that's been heavily involved in the Solaris to Power development effort.

Clarke said his system now runs Linux but is also used by Solaris developers working on Solaris for Power. Open-source developers assembled a Solaris kernel for PowerPC last year, but it will be months before a functional version of the ported operating system is ready. While Clarke can make a case for running Solaris on Power, some corporate users are skeptical of its value.

Martin Timmerman, director of computer system services at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, runs both Solaris UltraSparc systems and IBM AIX Power-based systems, and he can see little reason for wanting a Solaris port for his Power-based machines.