Game over for Solaris and SPARC?

Oracle kills Solaris development, lays off Sun hardware workers. The conclusion is inevitable.

Game over for Solaris and SPARC?
Stephen Lawson

When Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, the company inherited a venerable Unix solution that was already in decline. The Solaris operating system on Sun’s SPARC hardware was losing ground to x86 running Linux (or Windows Server) already, and IBM was cleaning its clock by stealing away SPARC customers to its Power series of servers. 

Larry Ellison promised to stop the bleeding. He promised investment in the line, and by and large has kept his promise, especially on the chip side. The SPARC line has seen considerable investment and some impressive new releases. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to turn things around. Solaris on Sparc continued to lose ground to competitors and Oracle’s own hardware, the x86-based Exadata and Exalogic. One thing Oracle would never own up to was SPARC sales to new customers vs. existing customers replacing aging hardware. 

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Now the writing is on the wall. Larry is patient, but that has limits in economic reality. The San Jose Mercury News reports Oracle is laying off approximately 450 employees in its Santa Clara hardware systems division, an office that was previously a part of Sun. All told, 1,800 employees are being let go companywide, according to The Layoff, a discussion board for technology business job cuts. 

This comes on the heels of reports that Oracle has cancelled Solaris 12, the next version of the Sun Unix operating system. Instead, Oracle replaced Solaris 12 on its product roadmap with something called Solaris There is also reference to SPARC next and SPARC next+. 

Oracle’s roadmap seems to indicate the company now sees SPARC and Solaris as cloud-focused systems, and the company has been rushing to beef up its cloud offerings as its software sales drop. By offering SPARC Dedicated Compute in the Oracle Cloud, it allows customers to use the SPARC/Solaris combination without having to make an on-premises investment.

The beginning of the end for SPARC and Solaris

It seems pretty obvious that this is the beginning of the end for SPARC and Solaris. Granted, Oracle is committed to supporting Solaris until 2034, so it won’t go away any time soon, but with the layoffs and pullback in roadmap it’s clear that after seven years of trying, Oracle simply can’t make a go of it any more. It’s a x86/Linux world now, and the one major alternative is IBM’s Power line. 

Give Oracle credit for trying, though. No one would have faulted them for ending SPARC and Solaris right after the deal closed.

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