June 15, 2005 3:58 PM PDT

Sun modernizing Solaris start-up process

Sun Microsystems is revamping the start-up process for its Solaris operating system, scrapping an awkward, elderly approach for one the company promises will be faster, more familiar and more useful on a wide variety of computers.

Newboot made its appearance on Tuesday in OpenSolaris, the open-source version of the Unix operating system that Sun has begun releasing. In addition to the components Sun overhauled, the company embraced software called GRUB, or Grand Unified Bootloader, that's used by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise Server and many other Linux versions.

Solaris can run on computers with x86 processors such as Intel's Pentium and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. But the start-up process has been hobbled by a requirement for special-purpose software called drivers that control the computer's hardware.

Now, though, "we don't require special device drivers for boot, so the ability to just come up across a broad range of hardware goes up dramatically," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's network systems group, which sells x86 servers.

It's no surprise Sun wants Solaris to run as widely as possible. Through actions such as adding Newboot and releasing OpenSolaris, Sun is trying to restore its operating system's relevance, betting that doing so will attract more developers, software partners and customers and, therefore, much-needed revenue growth.

Fowler isn't the only one at Sun happy with the change. Writing the boot-time drivers required programming tools "not available for ready money anywhere," Solaris programmer Casper Dik said on his blog. "Now that this piece of shameful history lies in the past, I am not afraid to confess."

And GRUB will make Solaris fit better in the mainstream computing industry, Fowler predicted. "It will be very well received, he said. "We'll look less alien in a way that is fundamental, right from the install."

The new start-up process begins with GRUB, which presents a menu of operating system choices. When a computer user selects Solaris, GRUB hands control of the machine to Sun software called Multiboot. Solaris engineer Jan Setje-Eiler detailed the technology in his blog on Tuesday.

Another improvement comes later in the boot process and applies to Solaris running on Sparc as well as x86 processors. This process, based on software called the Service Management Facility, can load numerous operating system components in parallel.

"It's not much different on uni-processor (computers), but on anything above uni it blazes," Fowler said.

On the blogs, Sun engineers proudly display charts that show that once Solaris got control, a dual-Opteron computer took 33 seconds to boot. Bringing up a new zone--a walled-off section of a computer that appears to have its own version of Solaris--took 7 seconds.

2 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Huh?
Kudos to Sun for getting a clue and using GRUB.

SMF is a pretty decent idea, albeit not a new
one (honestly I don't know if Apple or Sun's
came first), but the description in the article
is a little deceptive. It doesn't load
"components" into the OS so much as it permits
parallel invocation of daemons (services) and
configuration scripts with some knowledge about
dependencies (just like under Mac OSX). It's
nice, but a small patch to their existing SysV
init does the same thing and maintains the
compatibility (and simplicity) of the old
method. It's also incorrect to say that you
don't notice a difference on a single CPU
system, since much of the boot time isn't CPU
bound at all but rather I/O or network latency
bound. The mere fact that the initialization
steps are perfomed in parallel rather than
serially will provide drastically increased boot
times.

For Linux afficionados, you can actually use the
hibernate feature of ACPI to store a live and
running environment on disk and then load that
rather than going through the boot process. It
takes a lot less than 33 seconds to load.

Mind you, the difference between 3 minutes to
boot and 30 seconds to boot is not that
important to everyone. You rarely reboot these
systems, and only in environments with stringent
availability requirements does that sort of
difference become a selling point.

However, I'm a little puzzled by the phrase
"special-purpose software called drivers that
control the computer's hardware", however. Not
that it's not right, but this guy is writing for
C|Net! A quick note to the author: your audience
are people familiar with the basics of
computers, not their great-grandparents. Most
people are all to painfully aware of what a
driver is. Ever hook something up some new
gadget to a system running MS Windows? It's been
known to make grown men cry.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Huh?
Kudos to Sun for getting a clue and using GRUB.

SMF is a pretty decent idea, albeit not a new
one (honestly I don't know if Apple or Sun's
came first), but the description in the article
is a little deceptive. It doesn't load
"components" into the OS so much as it permits
parallel invocation of daemons (services) and
configuration scripts with some knowledge about
dependencies (just like under Mac OSX). It's
nice, but a small patch to their existing SysV
init does the same thing and maintains the
compatibility (and simplicity) of the old
method. It's also incorrect to say that you
don't notice a difference on a single CPU
system, since much of the boot time isn't CPU
bound at all but rather I/O or network latency
bound. The mere fact that the initialization
steps are perfomed in parallel rather than
serially will provide drastically increased boot
times.

For Linux afficionados, you can actually use the
hibernate feature of ACPI to store a live and
running environment on disk and then load that
rather than going through the boot process. It
takes a lot less than 33 seconds to load.

Mind you, the difference between 3 minutes to
boot and 30 seconds to boot is not that
important to everyone. You rarely reboot these
systems, and only in environments with stringent
availability requirements does that sort of
difference become a selling point.

However, I'm a little puzzled by the phrase
"special-purpose software called drivers that
control the computer's hardware", however. Not
that it's not right, but this guy is writing for
C|Net! A quick note to the author: your audience
are people familiar with the basics of
computers, not their great-grandparents. Most
people are all to painfully aware of what a
driver is. Ever hook something up some new
gadget to a system running MS Windows? It's been
known to make grown men cry.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.