Site also available at http://sunmanagers.cs.toronto.edu/
Sun-Managers was a mailing list for system administrators of computers made
Sun Microsystems, Inc. Sun-Managers operated from mid-1989 to the fall of 2014, when it was
HistorySun-Managers was founded in May of 1989 by William LeFebvre, at Northwestern University. At the time, Bill ran Sun-Spots, a digest-format mailing list for system administrators of Sun systems, but the digest format made it difficult for people to ask questions and get a timely response. He created Sun-Managers, an unmoderated mailing list intended for short-turnaround time questions. This was an immediate success: so much so that by the fall of 1989, the sheer number of messages on the list were swamping mailboxes. In Nov 1989, Bill instituted a simple policy: if someone asks a question on the list, other list members were expected to reply by email directly to the person asking the question, not to the list. The person asking the question, in turn, was expected to summarize the answers received, and send the summary to the list.
This policy was very effective: the list volume was reduced immediately, yet the turnaround time on questions was still short. Moreover, the summaries were archived, and this archive became a resource in itself, a knowledge-base of practical information about administering Sun systems.
The list grew very rapidly: 343 summaries in 1990, and over 1000 in 1991. In August of that year, it was noted that certain questions were being asked often, and rather than waste effort answering the same question several times, a "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) file was instituted. The first version was created by a list member from Boston University, and quickly grow to dozens of answers.
By November of 1992, the list had grown to thousands of members, and the workload of managing the list, editing the FAQ and coaching list members on how to follow the list policy had become significant. Many list members were not individuals, but "mail exploders": email addresses that themselves were mailing lists going to multiple individuals at a given site. This made handling list membership issues more complex. Bill LeFebvre decided to hand the list over to others. Two list members stepped up: Gene Rackow from Argonne National Laboratory to run the list software, and John DiMarco from the University of Toronto to handle the FAQ and policy work. The list itself was moved from Northwestern University to a system at Argonne National Labs.
The list continued to grow through the 1990s: by 1996, over two thousand summaries a year were being produced, peaking at 2243 in 2002. During the list's tenure at Argonne, Sun Microsystems donated a Sparcstation to support it. In May of 1998, Gene Rackow handed over list management to Rob Montjoy from the University of Cincinnati, who in turn handed over list management to Bill Bradford in November of 2000. The list was moved from Argonne National Labs to a system in Austin run by Bill. John DiMarco continued to manage the list policy and edit list information files, such as a "think before posting" reminder and the FAQ which had grown to 79 questions by December 2000. This had become a bit too large, and so 19 questions deemed less frequently asked were trimmed. A further trim was made in 2005, reducing a 65-question FAQ to one under 60.
By 2002, the list had reached over five thousand members and the workload of running the list software and managing the list subscriptions had become too much for one person. Dan Astoorian of the University of Toronto stepped in to help. Moreover, the list server hardware was feeling the strain: by mid-2001, list members were being asked to contribute used equipment to upgrade the server. This was resolved in April 2003, when the list was migrated to a machine at the University of Toronto that had been donated to the University by Sun Microsystems.
But times were changing. Linux was growing rapidly and Sun's business was being affected. The web provided more resources for people seeking help administering their systems, and fewer were relying on mailing lists. The list fell below 2000 summaries per year in 2003, under 1200 in 2004, and dropped below 1000 in 2005. By 2008, summaries per year had fallen to about 300, fewer than in any full-year period previously. Sun Microsystems ran into significant difficulties during the economic downturn that year, and was sold to Oracle the following year. As for the list, in 2009, there were just over 200 summaries, declining to less than 100 in 2011. More disturbingly, the ratio of summaries to questions was steadily declining, from over 24% in 2001 to less than 16% by 2010: for some reason, list members were becoming less diligent in summarizing responses back to the list. Summaries and list traffic in general continued to decline rapidly: there were just over 50 summaries in 2012, and less than a dozen in 2013. In 2014, there were only three by October, when a hardware failure provided a good excuse to retire the list.
The Sun-Managers mailing list, over its twenty-five year lifetime, provided help to many thousands of system administrators, producing over 29000 summaries, an archive of which continues to be available. Special thanks is due to the list maintainers over the years: William LeFebvre, Gene Rackow, Rob Montjoy, Bill Bradford, Dan Astoorian, and John DiMarco. Gratitude, also, is due to the thousands of list members who so freely shared their knowledge and expertise with others.