Last year as an undergraduate, David Ferry ported Linux to a Sun workstation "out of interest". Today he is part of the JAIN project — a Sun initiative for building Java-based telecommunications applications.
Ferry, now a masters student at Massey University, had his first taste of Sun technology last year when he and fellow student Oliver Jowett ported Linux to the Sun 380 workstation.
"I was interested in finding out what it takes to get a kernel running on a new hardware architecture," says Ferry. "There were a couple of these boxes sitting around the university and we wanted to see if we could get one running but we couldn't find a copy of the Unix operating system [Sun Solaris]. We decided to see how much work was involved in porting the Linux kernel."
The project took a couple of weeks. When they graduated Ferry and Jowett asked the university if they could take the Unix work-stations for further development but were turned down. So they decided to release the code they had written. "There are people who are interested in Linux on the Sun 3 and another guy in the US has picked up what we've done up."
Following this Ferry earned an honourable mention on the Linux Weekly News Web site for developing a patch to the stable Linux kernel.
"With Linux there is a 'stable series' of kernels and a 'developers series', which is a test bed. Last January the latest developers' series which had been running for the last two years switched over to stable. Before that transition, people were running the previous stable kernel which had some bugs causing Web servers to lock up."
Ferry put together a patch to create an ultra-stable kernel and posted it to ftp.uk.linux.org.
"I really did it out of interest. It was fun and it looks good on your CV," he says.
Ferry's Linux work paid off. Now with help from Sun's New Zealand agent, SolNet, and Technology New Zealand's GRIF (Graduates in Industry Fellowships) scholarship scheme, Ferry is researching Java-based telecommunications applications with special reference to JAIN (Java in the intelligent network) a subset of the Java development environment that is tailored for intelligent networks.
"JAIN addresses the interconnection issues between different equipment providers, with the potential to allow a service to run on any switch,'' says Ferry.
"It extends the benefits of Java into the telco space by allowing telecommunications providers to put Java applications — call diversion, for example — on to switches. That means those applications can run across any type of switch.'
"JAIN and Java also open up opportunities for the development of entirely new services, as the switch providers can now have access to existing Java libraries.''
Ferry's research into developing the infrastructure to deploy and manage such services may be leading edge, but it also has a strong core of real-world practicality. The GRIF scheme has been founded on the premise that the research it sponsors should ultimately lead to the development of profitable products and technologies. To qualify for the scheme, researchers need to prove their work will generate real value for businesses.
Once he completes his degree in early 2000, Ferry will continue to work in SolNet's telecommunications team further developing solutions in the Java/JAIN area.