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Illumos project looks to shed light on OpenSolaris for ZFS storage

Former Sun and current Nexenta engineer leads effort to revive OpenSolaris source code used in ZFS storage systems. Oracle's involvement is a question mark.

The OpenSolaris community is looking to breathe life into the development of the source code used for ZFS storage systems left dormant since Oracle Corp. acquired Sun Microsystems Inc. A Nexenta Systems Inc. engineer is leading a new governing body to help consolidate OpenSolaris development, and says one key technical hurdle that has stalled OpenSolaris has been resolved.

On Tuesday, Garrett D'Amore unveiled the Illumos project. Illumos -- based on the term Illume, meaning hope and light -- is the new governing body for the OpenSolaris community. D'Amore also said the community has replaced the closed libc (libc_i18n) bits needed for a working C library .

"This was the main roadblock for making OpenSolaris open," said D'Amore, senior director of engineering at Nexenta Systems, which uses OpenSolaris in its ZFS-based storage systems. "Creating this code has opened the project so it can live and grow without relying on Oracle to develop the closed binary."

D'Amore is a former engineer at Sun and briefly worked as a Solaris and device driver architect at Oracle after it acquired Sun. Illumos is taking the core OpenSolaris kernel and foundation -- known as OS/Net or ON -- and creating a repository for the open source development community. OS/Net includes the kernel, C libraries, shell and shell utilities, file systems and networking functions of OpenSolaris.

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The problem the OpenSolaris open source community has faced in the last five years is that important parts of the code distributed with OpenSolaris is closed sourced. D'Amore said progress has been made in some key areas. Besides the libc C library, replacement bits were created for most of the closed source utilities and for some drivers. OpenSolaris has driver support for x86 and AMD64, VMware and VirtualBox. D'Amore said he expects support for SPARC "really soon."

However, critical work in certain closed areas still needs to be done, such as the NFS/CIFS lock manager, full kcf module/daemon, trusted extensions and many more drivers.

For now, D'Amore is the tech lead for Illumos' developer council. He insists this newly formed Illumos project is not slave to any corporate master, least of all Oracle. "We are governed and run by the community. We are going to run this as a meritocracy with a light hand on governance," he said.

But with some of the code bits in Oracle's repository open and some closed, Illumos remains dependent on Oracle if it does not want to become what is known as a forkin the open source world. "We develop code from Oracle's core base and enhance it and replace parts we don't have access to," D'Amore said. "We use the open bits and replace the closed bits."

So what if Oracle decides to shut off the tap completely? If Oracle lets OpenSolaris die, then the code Illumos produces becomes different software -- the fork in the open source world. "That will happen only if the tap is turned off, which I don't think will happen," D'Amore said.

OpenSolaris continues to extend an olive branch to Oracle in the hope that the software giant will collaborate with the Illumos project. "[Illumos] is not a competitor," D'Amore said. "I have personally invited Oracle to participate although they are not allowed to own it. We want to have an open and collaborative environment. If Oracle wants to participate proactively, then I fully encourage it."

So far, Oracle has not officially responded, D'Amore said.

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