Sun Ultra 20 Workstation: The Extras

I have just finished writing a review of the Sun Ultra 20 worktation for Linux Magazine, a $30 a month, 64bit machine with plenty of horsepower plus a boat load of hardware and software (and after 36 months you own the hardware and software lock, stock and barrel). It is a bit short on memory (512MB) and diskspace (80GB) – but still it is one of the few times I find myself agreeing with Alan Zeichick about the desirability of a system. However, the real attractions are two things – one is the usefulness of the Sun Software stack and two the power of virtualization. Lets address these topics in order.

Sun Softare Development Stack

What you get with each workstation is Java Studio Creator, Sun Java Studio Enterprise 7, and Sun Studio 10. Java Studio Creator is the very approachable Java IDE for creating GUI Web Applications based on the very fine Netbeans IDE. This party believes that for Java development, NetBeans is a clear step up on Eclipse. Eclipse may win the battle of add-on tools but for Java coding and development on client, server and Web apps – Java Studio Creator with its NetBeans underpinnings is this partys choice.

Sun Java Studio Enterprise, also based on NetBeans, adds all the Enterprise caliber capabilitieswhich you may have wished for in the easy to use Java Studio Creator. Java Studio Enterprise adds BPEL modeling for SOA and Business Process development, UML modeling for architecting and designing your systems, a host of Team Collaboration features, enhanced refactoring and a very powerful profiler utility for performance tuning. Finally Sun Studio adds a C/C++ and Fortran IDE to the mix with advanced features for multicore, multi-threading and grid computing applications. Even more important, Sun Studio allows developers to mix and match C/C++, Fortran and Java modules in deployment packages. All 3 systems come with 90 day installation support and 1 year software support (Sun Studio excepted).

The Sun software stack , even without a database, is impressive for its ability to be deployed to Solaris and Linux 32 bit and 64bit. Impressive enough such that Oracle has returned to Sun and Solaris as its reference development platform for 64bit databases. Of course with deals like the Sun Ultra 20 workstation and its ability to support Linux and Windows 64bit as well as Solaris- one can understand Larrys move here. And this lead to our second topic – virtualization.

Sun Ultra as Virtual Workstation

The version of Sun Ultra 20 I worked with had a quad boot capability with 4 x 20GB partitions- one each for Solaris 10, RedHat Enterprise Linux 3.1 , Suse Entereprise Linux 9.1 and Windows XP Professional. The system used the GNU Grub boot loader – and worked like a charm. I was consistently flitting between operating systems as I completed tests on one system – to try the same software on the next. But if I had VMWares ESX or RSX I could have dynamically switched between systems – no restart required. However, for bench mark purposes – I wanted to let each OS boot and have master control over the hardware. But for development of n-tier Web applications, such benchmarking equal-playing-field niceties go by the board.

And here is what makes things even more interesting – Intel and AMD are racing to see who will implement and deliver the best hardware virtualization boosters. My bet is on AMD because technically they have been beating Intel with innovations on a consistent basis. Regardless of who wins, developers and operational shops will have to keep a close eye on these innovations. Its back to the Future when IBM MVS ran batch and other jobs in highly secure OS partitions. Given security vulnerabilities and on-demand requirements – virtualizations present some very attractive possibilities.

I tried VMWare on the Sun Ultra 20 – and lets say the results were very impressive and even bewitching. Even before the upcoming hardware assists, the performance was generally very good – especially the switch from Windows to Linux. But the sheer convenience of moving between system – and have diskspace global and mouse understanding of dual systems windows seamless – very nice. I wondered a couple years back why Microsoft bought Virtual PC. Wags were saying that Redmond needed it to securely move among Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP – but I suspect Bill did not want to miss out on the Virtualization Train – coming to a workstation near and dear(think Sun Ultra for one) and now able to switch OS identities in a nonce.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006