Ian Murdock as Sun Chief OS Platform Strategist : The Cuddletech Verdict

Posted on April 23, 2007

On March 19th, Ian Murdock, father of Debian Linux, joined Sun as “Chief OS Platform Strategist”. He debuted in style, announcing himself in true community fashion on the OS-Discuss list and blogging about it. I’ll be honest… I was upset and confused. Why of all people, Ian Murdock? Sun tried the Linux strategy thing and it was a failure, unless you count the renewed commitment to Solaris following the flop. Sun has since toned down its Linux stance to simply qualifying and supporting Linux across the hardware line which I readily endorse as a wise move. But put Ian Murdock in charge of OS Strategy? CTO of the Linux Foundation, Chair on the Linux Standards Base…. Ian might be a great guy, but this isn’t getting me excited about Solaris’s future.

Well, hey, thats how I felt. But I trust Jonathan and Sun’s senior management, I decided to say thing publicly until I got some more information and had a real reason to feel one way or the other…. and today I got my chance.

In a really wonderful move, today Jason Hoffman and I from Joyent, with Ian Murdock and Bryan Cantrill from Sun, met with Jeremy LaTrasse of Obvious who run Twitter on Joyent Accelerator’s (OpenSolaris Containers). The purpose was to sit down and really analyze performance in Ruby, Rails, and Mongrel to find big performance wins and better improve scalability of the biggest Ruby on Rails application known to exist. The meeting was a great success in a variety of ways, but I’ll avoid divulging technical details that might get me in trouble… needless to say, Bryan Cantrill is the man.

During this DTrace-fest I was fortune to spend a a little bit of time talking with Ian. One of the first things you notice is that unlike many of the big and brash personalities in the Linux world Ian is very mellow and just a really nice guy! I was a bit surprised, though I’m not sure why, but he’s very level headed, open to ideas and input, and someone that you’d invite to the family picnic. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Ian I highly suggest you make the effort to say hello.

We talked a bit about his coming to Sun and his new position. I was curious what his strategy might look like and what he has in mind. I won’t try to summarize or quote him in any way out of fear of misrepresenting him, but I was impressed with his observations, openness, and approach. As we talked, floating from this topic to that, it became clear very quickly why Sun brought him on board. Regardless of which OS your talking about, Ian has a very unique perspective. Really stop and think about it.. how many people can you think of, on any platform, that can live equally as well with company management, analysts, kernel engineers, commercial customers, and F/OSS community members? As we talked I tried to think of some names… not many came to mind. It is clear that Ian is extremely unique in this regard. He could talk with weekend developers or home enthusiast over pizza just as smoothly as wine and dine CEO’s and CTO’s on Wall Street. Not so many people can pull that off, and its when you realize this that suddenly you become excited that he’s now at Sun.

I will say that he’s totally behind Solaris. He doesn’t see Linux and Solaris as black and white or as decisively fitting here and decisively fitting there. Learning this for myself, not by what he said specifically, but just seeing how ideas were unfolding, was extremely reassuring.

As I was driving home I was thinking about our talk, and started to think about the role that he’s been placed into. The more I pondered it the more I grew to like it. Thinking about it, who inside Sun really represents Solaris? And if you can even name someone, how many of us would agree on who that person is? And even if we did, is that person able to relate with developers, administrators, end users and management equally as well? No one fits that bill. There’s Jonathan at the top, kernel engineers at the bottom and a fuzzy area in the middle where we all might pull out names like John Fowler or Tim Marsland or Tom Goguen… but do any of us, specifically customers, look at any of these people as a central advocate for Solaris? I don’t think so. And frankly, I don’t really see anyone fitting such a role right now. It quickly became solidified in my mind that we really do need such a person, and I think Ian is uniquely qualified to be that person. And now, of course, I can see why Sun brought him on board, and why we should all be really excited to have him in the position that he is.

And so, after careful consideration, I can very comfortably state that I’m 100% behind Ian Murdock in his new role at Sun. My initial concerns were all unfounded and within 2 minutes of talking to him brushed entirely aside. Ian is going to define himself in a role we didn’t even know we needed, but I’m now wondering how we’ve done without it so long.

I’m posting all of this so verbosely not to waste your time reading this all or my time writing it, but to try and appeal to those of you in the OpenSolaris community who, like myself, have concerns, doubts, and even a bit of fear over what this really means. While I haven’t supplied a lot of concrete “He said this and blew my mind!” evidence, those of you who frequent this blog know that I’m at least honest and forthright… whether its popular or not, and so I hope that this gives some counter balance to those who were like I was. I can say, clear of conscious, that I enthusiastically support Ian and am excited to welcome him to Sun. He’s going to bring qualities to Solaris that we’ve desperately need to have in the management structure with the power to execute and represent both Sun and the community and I’m more confident in our future than ever. I strongly encourage everyone in the community to embrace him and look to him as the advocate that we always wished we had but didn’t.