College to collaborate with Sun Microsystems

by Astrid Bradley | 11/21/05 6:00am

Network computing company Sun Microsystems and Dartmouth's Public Key Infrastructure Laboratory are creating a new partnership that pairs Dartmouth's expertise in secure computing with Sun's Open-Solaris Project, an open-source operating system that is being enhanced through community input, the College announced Friday.

Both organizations stand to benefit from the new partnership, according to Glenn Weinberg '78, vice president of operating platforms at Sun.

"A lot of the research and directions that Dartmouth were pursuing were very interesting to Sun, and a lot of the things that Dartmouth needed in terms of again providing that really solid foundation on which to build we had already put into Solaris-10," Weinberg said.

Through the collaboration, Dartmouth will restructure its graduate operating systems course to include equipment donated by Sun, allowing students to get a more hands-on approach. The PKI laboratory will also work on continuing hardware-based security and developing an open-source certificate authority that runs on Open-Solaris.

"One of the nice things about Open Solaris is that it is a well-engineered, high-performance OS that is available now to students and to the educators to see the insides," computer science professor Sean Smith said.

Smith directs the PKI Laboratory.

"You don't train doctors by reading books. You have them do real dissections to see what the body looks like," Smith said. "Similarly, when training the next generation of computer scientists and computer professionals, the best way for them to understand how the real operating systems work, is to actually see the guts -- see the internals."

The purpose of the Open-Solaris project is to bring Solaris, the open-source operating system, to the broader open-source community. The project will encourage innovation on top of a strong existing platform while spreading the software into the hands of a wide range of people to make necessary changes, Weinberg said.

Companies normally keep their ideas protected when they develop software in order to obtain a competitive advantage.

"The problem with that is that it stifles innovation. It forces people to redo things over and over and over again because there is no cooperation or collaboration," Weinberg said.

The security for open source is provided by tools like PKI, which enable electronic activities across organizations by establishing electronic trust relationships.

"The fact that its open source lets the Dartmouth lab work on it in a way that we couldn't if it were closed source," Smith said.

Weinberg and Smith see no immediate end to the collaboration.

"This is just the first phase," Smith said.

The interests and the quality of the research at Dartmouth brought the College's PKI Lab the recognition of being named a Sun Center of Excellence. Sun chooses centers of excellence that have demonstrated advanced ways of using the technology that Sun and the broader industry provides.

In 2002, Sun named the College's fMRI Data Center a center of excellence for its public archive of peer-reviewed brain studies and underlying fMRI data.