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Every couple of years, Sun Microsystems kicks off a 'new version of Solaris' celebration. This Unix fiesta, if you will, requires several months of marketing hype before the actual operating system is released. And so the party began this week with Sun's plugs for Solaris 10, which should arrive in the second half of 2004.

Linux may have found its way into Sun's StarOffice Impress slides, but Solaris is still king at Sun. The company is making this particularly clear with Solaris 10, releasing the OS with 64-bit versions for both SPARC and Opteron servers. While many pundits say Unix is slowly dying, Sun maintains that Solaris is just getting ready to hit its stride on RISC and elsewhere.

"Our focus on Solaris is a very big competitive advantage for us in the long run," said Jonathan Schwartz, head of software at Sun, during an analyst confab this week.

With Solaris 10, Sun plans to up the competition against AIX and HP-UX on midrange and high-end systems and pitch Solaris as a major competitor to Linux on low-end boxes. For the Unix SMP crowd, Sun has a host of new features, including containers, better diagnostic tools, and beefed up security. At the low-end, Sun is claiming it will soon provide evidence that Solaris 10 can outperform Linux when running standard Web and application server software - be it a one or four processor box.

As is typical with any new Solaris release, Sun takes a little more than two years to build the OS. Most users are still on Solaris 8, and some are on Solaris 9. Solaris upgrades tend to take quite a while, as big time customers are reluctant to mess with working systems. Sun, of course, says Solaris 10 is a must for customers, as it contains far more key updates than Solaris 9.

One of the major new additions to Solaris 10 is the N1 Grid Containers product. Sun has gone through some name changes with the product since we first reported on the technology, but the premise of the software has stayed the same. The containers are Sun's answer to logical partitions (LPARs) on AIX and HP-UX and the virtual machines touted by VMware/EMC for Windows and Linux servers. The software permits users to carve up a server into multiple partitions and to set up processing, memory and bandwidth limits for each partition.

Sun argues that its technology beats out that of rivals because users can create hundreds of partitions on top of a single instance of the operating system. This should help companies save money on licensing and can make server management easier. Analysts, however, warn that Sun must prove the containers are as secure and stable as say LPARs.

Sun sees customers running a number of Web servers, for example, on one copy of Solaris, making a type of virtual blade server farm. This technology, like all the OS updates, will run on both Solaris for SPARC and Solaris x86.

On the diagnostic front, Sun is touting the DTrace tool - famous, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for its 30,000 probes. DTrace sends the probes through a server looking for hardware errors and anything that might be slowing application performance. It can be run in the background on production systems. A similar feature, Predictive Self Healing, tracks components such as memory and can trigger automatic system responses to deal with certain errors, i.e. taking bad memory offline and alerting admins to make a fix.

Sun has also added a new security tool with Solaris Privileges. This lets the root user create sub roots that can have permission, for example, to patch applications but not to touch hardware components. In addition, Sun is highlighting a new Solaris TCP/IP stack, which we have discussed here.

All of these Solaris additions are already available to customers via the Software Express program set up by Sun. This gives customers an early idea about what they can expect when Solaris 10 arrives.

Sun executives stress they have been working hard to make the Slowaris monicker a thing of the past. The company is so confident about Solaris' speed that officials repeatedly offered to challenge Linux on benchmarks in the coming months.

This is bold talk, but understandable given Sun's entry into the Opteron server market. Sun is the only major vendor to bring a proprietary Unix to the Opteron chip. Sun is hoping to avoid past mistakes with Solaris x86 for Xeon by championing the OS every chance it gets, calling it the most proven Unix for Opteron around. Opteron provides a nice chance for Sun to extend the Solaris franchise. We'll have to see if customers buy the hype. ®

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