Sun raises curtain (a little) on Solaris 9

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc is working towards getting the next release of its Solaris operating system - known as SunOS 5.9 internally at Sun and Solaris 2.9 or

simply Solaris 9 externally - which should be shipping if all goes well before the end of Sun's fiscal year in June,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes


Sources at Sun have not publicly committed to a launch date because Sun is still testing the operating system to make sure it is ready to rumble.

Name calling

For marketing reasons as well as internal rules governing the naming schemes of Sun Unix operating systems, the next update of Solaris will be Solaris 9 and not a refresh of the existing Solaris 8 code, even though the vast majority of the code in the operating system has not changed.

The Sun naming conventions have to do with whether or not the APIs in use with a successive release - as well as the undocumented APIs that Sun wants to discourage customers from using - require software vendors to re-certify their applications for a Solaris environment.

Because some of the changes Sun is making to Solaris will require this re-certification, the updated Solaris will be Solaris 9 rather than Solaris 8. Aside from all that, the marketing folk at Sun will be happier pushing Solaris 9 against the rebranded operating systems from Microsoft Corp, IBM Corp, and Hewlett Packard Co. Solaris 9 can sound newer and better than updated Solaris 8.

Needle and Thread

One of the important changes in Solaris 9 is a change in the threading library. Solaris 8 had an alternate threading library that Sun was allowing customers to play around with, and this is now the default threading library with Solaris 9.

The replaced threading library will not affect application compatibility - Solaris 8 apps will run unchanged - but this change in threading schemes will allow nearly all applications to scale to larger processor counts than they currently can on Solaris 8 servers. (This is known as vertical scaling in the nomenclature of the server business.)

Bill Moffitt, one of the program line managers for Solaris, said that with Solaris 8, some applications scale really well to four or eight processors, and others can scale really well to the 64 processor top-end of the "Starfire" Enterprise 10000 or the 72-way upper limit of the "StarCat" Sun Fire 15000 servers. The change in threading does not provide a huge boost in performance in tests so far - most customers can expect to see performance increases in the range of 10% to 30%. That said, some applications may run twice as fast because of more efficient use of SMP and, as is always the case, some poorly behaved applications may even slow down a bit because of this change in threading libraries.

Jump Start

Moffitt says that Solaris 9 will also have improvements dedicated to making it easier for companies to manage networks of Solaris servers. Solaris 2.6 provided customers with the ability to create what is called a "Jump Start" disk to manually replicate servers, which is useful for infrastructure workloads where companies have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of identical servers that they need to keep in lockstep.

With Solaris 8, Sun allowed companies to "flash" Solaris Jump Start configurations over the network to an empty server disk. This was useful, but someone still had to go around and physically boot the flashed Solaris operating system. With Solaris 9, distributed servers with can be remotely flashed and booted from outside, over the Internet or over private networks.

This new feature will allow companies to horizontally scale their servers in lights-out environments. If a machine is delivered to a data center in the middle of nowhere, someone slides it into the rack, plugs in the power and the network link, turns it on, and network administrators from anywhere in the world can roll Solaris and a bundle of preconfigured apps onto the server and make it live in the network to start doing useful work.

Moreover, flashing servers remotely with an updated Jump Start configuration is a lot faster than updating each of those machines individually. But there may be another more important benefit. Ravi Iyer, another product line manager for Solaris, says that more than half of the security issues affecting corporations are due to misconfigured machines -- people forget to make a crucial update on one server, or make a mistake that they don't catch, and then a hacker can get in. If all servers are updated from a master Jump Start disk using flash capabilities, then if security is tight on one server, it is tight on all servers.

Sun says that this new feature can deploy three simple Web server stacks in about 20 minutes; the speed of a flashed Jump Start configuration or reconfiguration will depend, of course, on network speed, application complexity, and boot speed. Moffitt says that Sun is working on reducing boot times as well.


Within the next 12 to 18 months, Sun will roll out a Solaris initiative called iChange. This involves using a server as a jukebox to store multiple Jump Start images, and then flashing these images on machines based on hardware configurations and policy differences between users and servers in the networks.

In effect, iChange becomes a software change management tool for both the operating system and its application. Companies should be able to automate the flashing of server images (and presumably workstations, too) on a monthly, weekly, or nightly basis if they so choose.

Obviously such a capability would be more interesting if a central iChange server could be used to update non-Sun platforms. Moffitt and Iyer say that Sun could look at this in the future, but mastering it for Solaris is the first priority.

Because of Sun's increasing use of Linux as infrastructure servers, the company could make its own Linux machines fit into the iChange scheme, but it will probably be a very cold day when Sun manages Windows servers and workstations with iChange. That said, if it could pull it off - no mean technical feat, to be sure - that might make iChange even more useful.

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