The Observation Deck

Month: June 2004

Just got back from the Solaris BOF here at USENIX ’04 — it was great to see so many people there! Hopefully it was useful to you; at the very least, you learned about a beautiful piece of Solaris documentation — not to mention how I feel about compiler folks. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding more information on DTrace, Zones, or Predictive self-healing; information on ZFS and the service management facility will be available after they become publicly available (which should be quite soon). Thanks for coming tonight — and thanks for all of the kind words tonight about the technology in Solaris 10 in general, and about DTrace in particular. It’s tremendously rewarding for us to see you so excited about these technologies!

So the DTrace team is currently at USENIX ’04, where yesterday we presented our paper on DTrace. The presentation went quite well — though it’s a bit difficult to jam so much content in 25 minutes! The reception to the work was very positive, and even the questions largely praised DTrace. The only wrinkle in the whole operation came with the last question, from an employee of IBM. To paraphrase:

DTrace seems great, I imagine many people would be interested in this, etc. etc. When are you going to port it to Linux?

I’m afraid that my answer was probably perceived as a bit politically incorrect; it was roughly:

Look: we believe in choice; we believe that people should pick the best operating system for the task at hand. We’ve been busting butt for the last three years on DTrace to make Solaris the best operating system for many different tasks. Enough said…

To be clear: this is not an attack on Linux. But there is a fundamental disagreement out there: many seem to believe that the operating system is a “commodity” — that all operating systems are basically the same. We disagree: we believe that the operating system is a nexus of innovation. And we believe that we’re proving that with Solaris 10 technologies like DTrace, Zones, ZFS, etc. etc. You certainly don’t have to agree with us; we believe that you always have the right to choose Linux and that there may be many great reasons to do so. But please stop asking if we’re going to port these features to Linux — if you want to take advantage of our OS innovation, run

It normally doesn’t — and it probably shouldn’t. But Chris Preimesberger, the author of the story on Solaris 10 that I mentioned on Friday, has apparently read (and commented on) my blog entry — and he corrected the story! The details of the paragraph are now correct, and I’m certainly happier.

This whole episode has given me insight into the unique tribulations of being a technical reporter. It must take a thick skin to be dealing with people like me all of the time: fast talkers who bombard with technical detail, and then expect absolute accuracy in whatever stories emerge. Of course, from my perspective, the problem is that the readership assumes absolute accuracy — and if the technical details are incorrect, they will naturally blame the technology (or worse, the technologist) instead of questioning the accuracy of the reportage.

Anyway, Chris: thanks for correcting the story; it’s much appreciated.

Earlier, I lamented the fact that a press roundtable on three key technology areas in Solaris 10 (DTrace, Zones and ZFS) had yielded only stories about open source — a topic which we explicitly didn’t talk about. Fortunately, there is now a new story by one of attendees of the roundtable that focuses on the three technology areas.

And even better, the larger points about DTrace are certainly correct, e.g.:

DTrace, which uses more than 30,000 data monitoring points in the kernel alone, lets administrators see their entire system in a new way, revealing systemic problems that were previously invisible and fixing performance issues that used to go unresolved.

And the example that the article is trying to cite has an absolute basis in fact — it’s discussed in depth in Section 9 of our upcoming USENIX paper. But that said, the details of the specific example are incredibly wrong. (So wrong, in fact, that they’re just odd; what does “a wild-card desktop applet that had somehow gotten channeled into the central system” even mean?) Perhaps the terms used are so opaque that readers will come away confused, but with the right overall impression — but given that readers at went so far as to
accuse me of being a pointy-haired boss based on the
C++ misquote, I can only imagine what I’ll be accused of being now

Several years ago, had a contest for the motto for Silicon Valley. Maurice Herlihy1 won with the slogan “Quality is Job 1.1.” Maurice’s slogan is certainly clever (and disconcertingly accurate at times), but one of the honorable mentions actually struck me as being truer to Silicon Valley: Eli Neiburger’s “God bless the early adopters.” If you have ever developed a revolutionary technology — one that requires people to change the way they think at some level — you know how unbelievably true this is. For it is the Early Adopter who puts up with tremendous pain to get their hands on a technology, goes through the tedium of constantly communicating the technology’s shortcomings to its inventors, endures the slow march towards something usable, and through it all somehow finds the energy to talk enthusiastically about the nascent technology at every opportunity. The Early Adopters are something of a riddle to me, but they’re so incredibly important to birthing new technology, that I almost view it as uncouth to dissect what makes them tick. So “God bless the early adopter,” indeed. There is no better slogan for Silicon Valley; you were robbed, Eli.

I bring all of this up because one of the great DTrace Early Adopters, Jon Haslam, has joined the Sun blogmania. Jon is a canonical Early Adopter in that he remained a terrific advocate for the technology, even when it was in a painfully unfinished state. We sometimes don’t understand what makes Jon tick, but DTrace certainly wouldn’t be what it is without him; God bless him…

1Maurice was actually a professor of mine at school; his course on lock- and wait-free synchronization was one of the highlights of my education. The course was a seminar, and one week the low quality of that week’s paper led me to decry the generally woeful state of academic computer science: “Maurice,” I whined, “95% of it is crap!” “Bryan,” he replied, “95% of everything is crap.” I conceded the point…

DTrace developer Adam Leventhal has joined the Sun blogging mayhem. Now if we can only convince Mike to start a blog (a feat that can only be compared to getting B.A. Baracus to fly), Team DTrace will be at maximal blogging power…

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