Illumos Dropping SPARC, Allows For Newer Compiler + Eventual Use Of Rust In The Kernel

Written by Michael Larabel in Operating Systems on 10 May 2021 at 06:05 AM EDT. 43 Comments
The Illumos project born out of the former Sun Microsystems OpenSolaris codebase has decided to end support for SPARC hardware.

While SPARC and Solaris/OpenSolaris once went hand in hand, with major SPARC development pretty much being over and Oracle having laid off much of their SPARC engineers years ago, the future isn't exactly vibrant. However, more immediately pressing is that Illumos developers don't even have sufficient SPARC hardware access.

With Illumos not being backed by Oracle, the developers have had to procure hardware on their own and it's become increasingly difficult to obtain UltraSPARC systems. Illumos lacks even a permanent/official SPARC build machine.

Due to the lack of SPARC hardware access and it even difficult to procure such hardware via eBay and used hardware channels, maintaining the SPARC architecture support in this open-source Solaris derivative is no longer viable. Additionally, trying to maintain the SPARC support through processor emulation with the likes of QEMU has also been deemed not viable.

The good news is that dropping SPARC support in Illumos to focus solely on 64-bit x86 will allow for making some nice improvements. By dropping SPARC they can modernize their toolchain and make other adjustments for where previously the diminishing open-source SPARC software upstream support was holding them back.

Dropping SPARC means they can drop their old GCC 4.4.4 shadow compiler, use newer GCC versions and the benefits that brings, clean-up some of their own code that was for SPARC-specific hardware, and make other reworks. Longer term, the Illumos developers are even looking at making use of the Rust programming language within the kernel, libraries, and commands. The lack of viable Rust support on SPARC held them back until now from making greater use of Rust.

So given the decreasing relevance of SPARC, it's a good move for Illumos to eliminate their SPARC support and focus on the future and being able to make some nice modernization improvements moving forward. Details on their SPARC sunsetting via the Illumos GitHub.
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