April 24, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Lighting a fire under Solaris

Sun Microsystems plans to release two significant updates to Solaris this year, promising a range of improvements as it tries to keep the operating system competitive.

For many years, Solaris has been the most widely used version of Unix. But much wind was taken from the operating system's sails by the quick arrival of Linux and the equally quick departure of Sun's prestige when the dot-com boom turned bust. Now Sun is trying to reinvigorate the operating system with advances in performance, networking, reliability and data storage.

Already, the company has matched three advantages Linux has: It has made Solaris free, open source and usable on x86 processors. (Intel's Xeon, Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron and other x86 chips sell in vastly higher quantities than Sun's Sparc chips.) Now the company is looking to get ahead and is working on a long list of features that touch most aspects of the server operating system.

"They're pushing the envelope," Tony Iams, an analyst at Ideas International, said about Sun's aggressive research and development efforts for Solaris.

Peder Ulander, Sun's vice president of software marketing, said the company plans to announce in May one significant update to Solaris. The revamp, set to ship in June, will deliver new self-healing abilities, a high-security extension and the high-reliability ZFS, or Zettabyte File System, he said.

A second update is set to add Xen virtualization software, which helps run multiple operating systems simultaneously, and to add BrandZ technology, which enables software to run in separate, independent compartments atop a copy of Solaris. This release is likely to be announced in November and to ship by the end of the year.

Even with the x86 push and millions of users, it's not clear whether Sun will be able to keep its edge, Iams said. "Whether they're maintaining a gap with Linux that's sufficiently strong is another question," he said. Competitors such as Novell's Suse Linux "are really pushing to fill in some of those holes that are left."

Take Sun's performance analysis tool, DTrace. "Linux has something similar that's rudimentary called SystemTap, but DTrace is way ahead of that," Iams said. However, Linux is moving fast and likely will answer the challenge, he said.

Aiming for high volume
Among Sun's motives for making Solaris free and open source is the hope that the operating will make its way into customers' operations through the back door--the way Linux already did--as programmers download and try it. And there's some evidence of success: So far, more than 4.5 million licenses of Solaris 10 have been registered, Sun said.

Sun has tickled the interest of some developers through the OpenSolaris project, though Linux has far broader community involvement. So far, three products combine OpenSolaris with higher-level software packages: Nexenta , Schillix and Belenix.

The x86 push is also directed at spurring the distribution of Solaris in high volume. After years of shunning the technology, Sun now actively develops and promotes x86 servers.

The market for servers with x86 chips has grown faster than the overall server market, and the machines are becoming ever more capable. And with AMD and Linux entering the market, it's become more competitive as well. These factors convinced Sun to fully support Solaris on x86 as well as Sparc.

Sun is fixing shortcomings where Solaris-x86 doesn't match up to Solaris-Sparc. One June improvement will add "predictive self-healing" to Opteron machines. With it, Solaris can automatically shut down processors, memory or the input-output components.

Even with the x86 server embrace, reclaiming lost momentum isn't easy. A survey of 814 members of the Independent Oracle Users Group showed an increasing preference for Linux over Solaris, when polled in January.

CONTINUED: Work in progress…
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6 comments

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Sun is almost as bad as Oracle..
It won't work right the first time and will take several releases after the initial screw up to get it fixed.
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
a profound statement
Well what in IT has work right "the first time" and didn't take a few
releases to fix?
Posted by are_you_sure (1 comment )
Link Flag
Sun is almost as bad as Oracle..
It won't work right the first time and will take several releases after the initial screw up to get it fixed.
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sun is almost as bad as your OS
What OS are you running that would post your post twice over a hour apart from each other. I mean you can't be that dumb that it is you that did that and not your computer. Looks like something is not working right the first time.

Solaris has always worked for me, I have a SparcStation 20 from 1995 running Solaris 8, that I have never had a problem with and still works better than a lot of computers I have that are not running Solaris and are only a few years old.
Posted by zkysr (78 comments )
Link Flag
Hey Sun, You workin the right Solaris improvements?
I've been using Solaris for a decade, and I can tell you why I am considering to migrated tons of servers off of it.

1. Driver support. Tons of legacy drivers I need are not available on Solaris 10 or backward compatible from earlier drivers. This means I have to buy new hardware to upgrade the OS.

2. Whats the deal with the install process, it seems the same as in 1996 when I first starting using it. Compare this with say Fedora Core 5 install and count the hundreds of usability differences.

Have a super day
Posted by The Wiethoff (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better use of Suns resourses
Sun would serve their Solaris customers far better by purchasing SWSoft and its Virtuozzo operating system based virtual software. It's at least 2 years development wise ahead of the solaris container system, is highly efficient in using a computers resources, has extremely good security, and has well laid out and easy to use management interfaces.
Sure an operating system level virtual system can only produce virtual copies of the parent operating system but for Sun's high end customers who need the power of the Sparc based systems this would be a god sent. Additionally, Sun would benefit from their taking over sponsorship of the OpenVZ OS virtualization project which is associated with the Virtuozzo product and is working to provide this capability as an open source solution to the Linux kernel..Heck, placing this into Suse Linux and Ubuntu would enable Sun to offer their AMD xx86-64 based hardware for use in their old traditional Internet strong holds running either Solaris or Linus 6 to 9 months before their hardware rivals
Of course none of this is going to happen if Oracle winds up buying Sun cheep for both their operation system (Oracle DB still runs on more Solaris systems than any other operating system out there) as well as the Java system. Remember Suns stockholders said 'NO' to the adoption of a poison pill to ward off any take over attempt and Suns stock is extreamly cheep.
Posted by J. D. Giel (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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