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Sun's Niagara gets Linux (again)

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Server maker Sun Microsystems has a new Linux partner for its "Niagara" family of multicore processors and their related servers: Wind River Systems.

Sun has plenty of sway with telecom companies and the network equipment providers that make the switching gear they use. But since the dot.com bust, Carrier-Grade Linux has been on the rise, and Solaris has been on the wane. That's why Sun has been keen on getting a Linux distro ported to the Niagara chips and having some sort of commercial support for them.

Since the launch of the Linux 2.6.17 kernel back in June 2006, the Niagara chips have had kernel support. But a kernel is not an operating system. Which is why a month prior to this, Sun and Ubuntu Linux distributor Canonical announced that Ubuntu would be supported on Niagara servers using the eight-core, four-threaded Sparc T1 variants of the multicore chips.

But last year, as Sun was ramping up the Niagara line with eight-core, eight-threaded Sparc T2 and T2+ chips that supported two-way and four-way SMP, Canonical quietly backed away from support of Ubuntu on the Sparc T series and did not support the older T1 or the new T2 and T2+ chips with its Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and Ubuntu 8.10 distributions. The Sparc T1 port now lives out there in the pasture where Power support lives, and Ubuntu is really only for 32-bit x86 and 64-bit x64 chips.

Wind River, of course, has been selling embedded and real-time operating systems (VxWorks, a Unix-like OS) since the dawn of time (OK, since 1981) and has also been ramping up its Carrier Grade Linux efforts as Linux catches on for embedded apps. As Ubuntu was pulling the plug last year on the Sparc T series, Wind River stepped up to the plate and said it would do a Linux port to selected models of Sun iron that are commonly used by telcos.

This week, Wind River is making good on that promise, with its Wind River Linux 3.0 and related Workbench tools now being available for the Netra T5220 rack and Netra CP3260 AdvancedCTA blade servers. (AdvancedTCA is a blade server form factor created by the telco industry that it has compelled some server makers to adopt if they want some of that juicy telco money).

As far as I know, none of the commercial Linux distros are supported on the Niagara family of chips at this point. You can, of course, roll your own Linux, but telcos are not really interested in that, and neither are military contractors. Which is why companies like Wind River are still in business.

It is interesting that Sun has had Ian Murdock, the co-creator of the Debian distribution of Linux, on the payroll for two years now and Sun has not figured out that it needs to have a Linux distro for all of the Niagara boxes, not just two Netra ruggedized, DC-powered machines. Either that, or license the QuickTransit emulation software that IBM got by acquiring Transitive last fall. Or, maybe just sell the whole company to Big Blue and let Armonk sort it out. ®

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