August 15, 2012 — The last of our SUN SPARC machines headed for the recycle center today. Woodrow, the Ultra 30, had been “cold iron” since we moved to Chaos Central three years ago, but Xavier, the Sun Blade 100, had been running until recently, when we extracted the disk drives, one of which lives on as an external drive on Zara, our main Linux desktop workstation. The two machines, along with xavier’s CRT monitor–also still operable, but with a resolution only supported by Solaris–were accompanied by five defunct UPS units deemed either too obsolete to bother replacing the batteries or which had failed electronics.
This weekend, the Unix Curmudgeon is scheduled to migrate the last Solaris SPARC production system to a new Linux virtual machine at our major client site, which will effectively end 22 years of computing on the venerable RISC platform. While the SPARC line of CPUs lives on under Oracle’s mantle, and the Solaris operating system (Intel version) still lurks as a client on one or more virtual machine hosts, SUN Microsystems is now only a footnote in the history of computing. Our association with SUN–which was one of the first Silicon Valley startups, emarging from the Stanford University Network (SUN), in 1982–began in the spring of 1990, with a SPARCstation 2 running SunOS4, in a project room at Seattle University. The machine was part of the development of the Proteus project, an early compute cluster, for which our Master of Software Engineering project team was building the operating environment.
After our portion of the Proteus project was completed (a spectacular demonstration of parallel programming in a simulation of the hypercube-connected 1000-CPU cluster), my next encounter with SunOS and SPARC and introduction to Solaris was when I took a contract assignment as system administrator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, managing a SPARCstation 20 running SunOS4, and Sun Netra and Ultra 2 systems running Solaris 5.5.1. When I moved on to Concurrent Technologies, which had similar hardware, including a Solaris 6 system, I picked up a refurbished SPARCstation 20 for my home office and loaded Solaris 7 on it. At the end of my assignment with CTC, I installed a pair of Ultra 10 workstations as servers in a co-location site in San Diego. At the University of Montana, I installed a Sun Enterprise 250, then moved on to the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which had a pair of Sun Enterprise 450 servers, which were in turn supplanted by an Sun Enterprise 880V, which I later replaced with a Sun Ultra Enterprise T5220, the machine which is being taken out of production, having been displaced by Linux clusters and VMs.
Meanwhile, in my home office, I had added the Sun Blade 100 and replaced the SPARCstation 20 with the Ultra 30. At “the Lab,” I also had used a Blade 100 as a workstation and replaced it with an Ultra 20 (new generation, not to be confused with the old Ultra line), and had tended a group of servers and workstations, an Enterprise 220R and several Ultra 2000 and 3000 workstations, that had been “donated” from projects at the main NIH campus in Bethesda. Most of the SPARC machines were simply “retired,” as they were replaced with larger systems or passed beyond their supported life spans and replaced with newer models, or simply outlived their projects.
The S20 and U30s in my own office were the only ones that succumbed to “natural causes,” having expired from running too long in un-airconditioned spaces (S20) or being powered down too long (U30). It was hard to let any of these faithful workhorses go, but eventually one must make room for new technology and move on. It is doubly sad that the iconic SUN logo will no longer grace any of the systems in the stable, either at Chaos Central or the client sites. After 22 years of seeing the familiar blue-and-beige boxes at home and work, we will miss them.