Tossing My Red Hat into the Sun

Over the past couple months, I decided to migrate this server from Red Hat 9 to Solaris 10. What follows is the logic and history behind that decision, which is still in progress. This is the first in a series of articles about moving from Linux to Solaris x86.

Red Hat 9 is way past its prime, esp. considering Red Hat (RH) is up to version 4 (guess their odometer rolled over). A while back they told me they were stopping support; first the general software updates went, then the security updates.
     So I decided I wanted to upgrade to something supported. My first consideration was RH9’s successor, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). I ran into a few barriers. For the version I would use (workstation), they want $180 – per year! That seemed kinda insane, considering it was free not too long ago. I looked at Fedora, and at the time the documentation consisted entirely of… release notes. That’s it. No warm fuzzies here. So I said, ok, if I cough up the cash, how do I upgrade? You can’t! There is no upgrade path (not even with Fedora), you have to do a full server migration.
     I’m really curious who decided to change the pricing from free-as-in-beer to expensive-as-in-Microsoft, while at the same time forcing customers to rechoose their OS. At the very least you’re gonna consider moving to SUSE.
     This also sparked a debate about whether you could sell free open source software and not let people copy it, as they seemed to be saying. Nobody but Red Hat knew what the deal was, and they didn’t seem to be talking (or nobody asked them; much of the geek community, e.g. those who post to places like slashdot, don’t like actual research, even if it takes less time). I finally got the info from a coworker, who learned from Red Hat that you were paying for their compilation services and support, not for the actual software. In otherwords, if you had the patience of a saint (and an intellect to match), you could legally obtain the source and compile it yourself. Of course, you still couldn’t get updates from RH, or you had to get the source for those and compile them, too, making your life a living hell. I have heard that another company is offering compiled RHEL binaries and support for a significant discount, and for some this may be worthwhile.

Enter Sun

This sudden change, with no way out, made me very bitter towards RH. I was pretty much dead set on finding another company to do business with (where I define “business” as using a company’s product and resources with little to no compensation). At the time, I was assuming SUSE was the only viable option. At the time, it probably was; I’m far too lazy to wrestle with Debian.
     Now, things are a bit different. Sun has recognized the opportunity to take customers away from RH by offering Solaris x86 for free. For a while, Solaris didn’t seem viable. Yes, you could get it free if you bought the $75 media kit, but they basically said they didn’t see the need/demand for the x86 version, and it looked like it was going to stop at version 8. Then they realized Linux was stealing customers because of x86 hardware prices, not the Solaris license costs (there aren’t any). And a lot of customers using Solaris x86 got upset. Result: change of course.
     OS religious wars aside, Solaris is generally considered to be the greatest operating system created. This doen’t make it an obvious choice for a few reasons:

  • Available software (much less, even compared to Linux)
  • Ease of maintaining (harder than Linux, way harder than Windows)
  • Hardware compatibility (improving, but weak)

I’m picking it anyway, as I think I can get around most of this.
     To do what I want to do with this server, I need: Apache, Java 5 (for Tomcat), PHP, Perl, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Postfix. I found most of these available in package form at, and all at Blastwave. More on them later, but basically I can easily add all the software I need.
     As for hardware, I’ve got some basic stuff like an Athlon processor (Sun is teaming with AMD), Asus motherboard, NVIDIA graphics card (unified driver architecture ensures compatibility across almost all NVIDIA chipsets), Toshiba DVD-ROM, and an Adaptec SCSI card. Nothing off the map.
     As for admin stuff, I’m really more of a Solaris admin than a Linux admin, at least at work. I hate system administration, passionately, so I do want to minimize it. I thought it would be about the same for me; turns out I’m wrong. It’s definitely worse, and I’ll get to that in an upcoming article.