AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog

Migrating Sun/SPARC Mission-Critical Applications from On-Premises to AWS Using SPARC Emulator

By Vinod Pulkayath, Solutions Architect – AWS
By Sandy Levitt, Cloud Engineer – Stromasys
By Todd Helfter, Director of Database Services – Effectual

To enhance organizational, operational, and technical capabilities, many businesses are evaluating the migration of their applications to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

However, mission-critical workloads running in non-x86 environments such as Solaris/SPARC cannot be migrated easily to the cloud without considerable refactoring and cost implications. This was a key blocker for a global supply chain solution provider who was trying to exit their data center.

To address this problem, the customer leveraged the Charon Legacy System Emulation Solution by Stromasys, an AWS Partner that provides cross-platform virtualization software, and successfully migrated the workloads to AWS by working with Effectual, an AWS Premier Tier Services Partner and Managed Cloud Services Provider (MSP).

This post walks you through the lift and shift migration of the customer’s mission-critical legacy applications to emulated SPARCs on AWS utilizing Charon-SSP, the legacy SPARC emulator from Stromasys, and common Solaris-native tools.

We will describe the customer’s context, Stromasys technical solution, and explore a successful lift and shift of a Solaris application, as-is, to AWS.


Many traditional IT systems are built using monolithic, tightly coupled architectures using legacy enterprise hardware platforms and operating systems. This means that scaling and adding new features is complex, and this complexity limits experimentation and implementation of new ideas. Additionally, monolithic architectures require considerable investment to maintain application availability.

As a company streamlining supply chain management operations, the customer in this use case helps businesses in various industries automate complex processes while increasing efficiency and reliability.

They were experiencing rapid organic growth and expanding via acquisitions, and at the same time transforming into a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business. This growth demanded agility, efficiency, and technical capability that the on-premises environment could not support.

Having legacy yet business-critical workloads (operating systems, legacy applications, and databases) running on Sun SPARC/Solaris systems was a key challenge. Rewriting legacy applications presented an additional burden in time and cost.

The customer needed a solution for a seamless lift and shift migration path. Effectual and Stromasys developed an architecture for the application migration without compromising on performance, security, and operational efficiency. The architecture involved leveraging emulators on multiple virtual machines (VMs) hosted on VMware Cloud on AWS.

For further reading on the various AWS migration, re-platforming, and re-hosting options, please refer to this AWS blog post on legacy migration options.

Advantage of Using Hardware Emulator in the Cloud

Emulation software from Stromasys makes possible the lift and shift of classic applications, as-is, to AWS in a matter of days.

Shift first and modernize later is an idea that is quickly catching on. Once safe and secured (shifted rather than migrated) in the appropriate Amazon Machine Image (AMI) or using the OS-based tools such as dump and restore, the mission-critical applications are migrated to the cloud. This way, it can be modernized eventually at a time and progression rate convenient for you.

Charon is the brand name of a family of legacy system emulators from Stromasys. Charon software emulates legacy hardware such as SPARC, DEC VAX, DEC Alpha, DEC PDP-11, and PA-RISC. Each emulator creates a virtual legacy hardware environment on a standard Linux-based host system with or without VMware ESXi hypervisor configurations (i.e. bare metal).

The image below shows how the legacy system hardware is replaced with Stromasys Charon emulator.


Figure 1 – Legacy hardware replaced by Stromasys Charon emulator.

Charon software creates accurate hardware models of emulated systems—including all type of peripherals used on each different architecture—to run on the Intel x86_64 platform.

This way, the legacy systems are replaced by a hardware abstraction layer on new industry-standard servers based on Intel x86_64 architecture, while the original complete OS and user application can continue to run unmodified in an identical environment as that provided by the legacy system replaced. This will preserve user interfaces and protocols.

Charon can be classified as a family of virtualization software solutions that provide cross-platform binary compatibility for different architectures.

Application shifts from legacy systems to AWS can be done using existing backups, or by creating and transferring them via network or any storage device to Charon. Fresh installation of legacy OS and applications can also be done on Charon as in the original systems to be replaced.

For a detailed description of the current Charon family of emulators and re-hosting best practices, please visit this AWS blog post from Stromasys.

Solution Workflow and Implementation

In the first phase of the migration project, a test bed was built within the on-premises environment to act as a proof of concept (PoC) and staging setup. The configuration was built using x86 VMware ESXi servers following these steps:

  1. Provisioned VMware virtual machines running Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
  2. Installed Charon-SSP SPARC emulator on the newly-provisioned VMs.
  3. From the Solaris hosts, created archive of the OS disks and the application file systems using ufsdump.
  4. Transferred the archives from the SPARC/Solaris hosts to target Linux VMs.
  5. Restored the Solaris archives and application filesystems to Linux machines using ufsrestore.

Once the entire environment was imported into new VMware infrastructure, the customer performed integration and performance testing.

After evaluation and right-sizing, the following configuration was finalized:

Source Environment (Legacy Equipment) Staging and Validation Environment Target Environment (VMware Cloud on AWS)
Sun Fire V240 UltraSPARC IIIi servers
(1.5 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 70 GB)
V210s (1.5 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 70 GB)
VMware vSphere environment running on x86 servers. The virtual machines run Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the base OS. VMware Cloud on AWS running on i3.metal Linux high-performance instances (each with 1TB EBS volumes).

The second phase of the migration project involved moving the VMware virtual machines (virtual SPARCs) from the on-premises servers to the cloud. The following architecture depicts the workflow from on-premises VMware environment to VMware Cloud on AWS.


Figure 2 – Legacy workload re-hosting process for on-premises legacy applications to VMware Cloud on AWS.

Here are the high-level steps that were performed for the migration from on premises to AWS:

  1. Launched VMware Cloud on AWS.
  2. Established network connectivity between the on-premises environment and VMware Cloud on AWS.
  3. Added the VMware Cloud on AWS cluster to the VMware vCenter running on premises.
  4. Updated production data from the current SPARC/Solaris production hosts to the staging VMware virtual machines.
  5. From vCenter, performed vMotion of staging virtual machines to VMware Cloud on AWS.
  6. Cutover the application for end users by changing the DNS records.

As mentioned in the above steps, this method provided a seamless lift and shift path for migration. Please see the VMware documentation on how to perform vMotion from the on-premises data center to the cloud.

Customer Outcome

The customer was able to close two physical data centers by summer 2021 and completed migration to VMware Cloud running on AWS.

Stromasys and Effectual enabled the customer to validate the migration path and leverage the software-defined data center (SDDC) and cloud-native capabilities to achieve their business goals.

“Without the Stromasys solution and the expertise of Effectual, we would not have been able to meet our data center exit deadline. We had time to spare!” said the customer’s Director of Information Technology. “Furthermore, with these mission-critical applications now hosted in a modern, secure environment, we have the luxury of time to decide if, when, and how to modernize the Solaris applications.”

“This project shows the true strength of what companies can accomplish together,” says Tom Spalding, Effectual’s Chief Growth Officer. “The customer’s team and partners were able to provide business value that far exceeded what a single company could have achieved on its own.

“This was a result of the customer’s openness, partnership, and willingness to pursue a holistic solution; Effectual’s creativity, focus on business outcomes, and desire to execute on behalf of our customers; and Stromasys’s incredible technical solution,” adds Tom.


You can use Charon emulators from Stromasys to lift and shift workloads without the need for refactoring or rewriting.

This considerably reduces the migration and modernization lead time, and provides many customer benefits:

  • AWS high availability capabilities and disaster recovery best practices are available for enhancing the application and improving the customer’s experience.
  • Costs are optimized moving to an AWS pay-as-you-go consumption model.
  • Application hardware capacity adjustments performed in minutes.
  • AWS CPU fast clock speeds deliver enhanced performance for applications.
  • Risks of a legacy system catastrophic hardware failure are mitigated.
  • Enterprises or organizations can now include legacy systems into their AWS mass-migration plans.
  • Applications are moved unchanged to AWS and done so transparently to end users, avoiding recertification and retraining.
  • AWS automation accelerates operations and allows starting or stopping legacy environments in minutes possibly within a CI/CD pipeline.

To learn more about Stromasys Charon emulators for your legacy hardware, visit