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Zettabyte goes root

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Sun Microsystems came in just under the wire with its Solaris 10 10/08 update, squeezing it out on the last day of the month. The company had intended to do the launch a few days ago, but pushed it out to the other side of its Q1 financial results.

The 10/08 update is not a major release, something that Sun has not put into the field since Solaris 10 came out in January 2005. Now that the OpenSolaris development edition of Sun's Unix is out, after a few releases of this development code, Sun is expected to take an OpenSolaris snapshot and take it inside the corporate firewall and harden it and test the living daylights out of it to make what Sun calls "Solaris Next."

Three years ago, it was called "Nevada," and it will probably be called Solaris 11 when it is launched. This is widely estimated to be in the works for sometime in 2009, and it would be reasonable to assume that Solaris Next will come out in the second half of 2009 when UltraSparc-RK "Rock" multicore processors and their "Supernova" server line debut.

In the meantime, Sun has to keep Solaris relevant for current iron and that is what the updates are for. The Solaris 10 10/08 update therefore has support for Sun's new T5440 quad-socket Sparc T2+ server, the new Sparc Enterprise M3000 server (which has a single-socket Sparc64 VII), and Intel's "Dunnington" Xeon 7400 series chips, which are available in rack and blade servers from Sun in its "Galaxy" server lineup.

According to Dan Roberts, director of marketing for Solaris at Sun, the 10/08 update also includes patches that allow Solaris 10 to run on Intel's next generation "Nehalem" Xeon processors, which are expected to start rolling out in early 2009. Roberts says Solaris is the first operating system to get Nehalem support into the field, and he adds that the next couple of Solaris updates will make better use of the features in the chipsets used with Nehalem chips (both in desktops and servers) and features inside the chips, as well as the usual performance tuning that comes with a new chip architecture.

The update also includes drivers for new RAID disk controllers (the LSI MegaRAID 1078 was an important one), new SAS drives, and high-end disk arrays from Hitachi. The predictive self-healing features for Solaris have also been tweaked to interface with the FMA fault management features in Intel's latest "Harpertown," "Wolfdale," and "Yorkfield" processors.

The update also brings support for SSE 4.1 and 4.2 instructions in Intel's chips, support for machines with more than 64 x64 processors, and paravirtualized network and disk drives for guests running inside Xen hypervisor slices.

The Solaris 10 10/08 update has another interesting change. After several years of testing, Sun's Zettabyte File System, something Sun talks about almost as much as Java these days, has now been designated the default root file system for Solaris 10. Up until now, ZFS has been used as an auxiliary file system, but Roberts says that Sun is now so confident that ZFS is rock-solid that it can be root now. The root ZFS can be mirrored right now, but RAID-Z data protection for a root file system is not yet available but is slated for a future release.

ZFS was the default operating system in the OpenSolaris 2008.05 development release that came out in May. This development release was formerly known as "Project Indiana" and Sun is pretty excited by its uptake. Sun expects to put out an OpenSolaris 2008.11 sometime in November, which will have a custom Solaris distro tool, among other things.

The 10/08 update also includes the code that allows for entire Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 environments to be run inside Solaris virtual private server containers. Up until now, this legacy container feature, which came out in the 5/08 update in May but which has been in development for years, has been sold as a separate product. Now, it is part of the Solaris 10 distribution.

The way it works now is this: If you have a Solaris 8 or Solaris 9 license on a support contract and you want to move a workload into a legacy container on Solaris 10, you set up the container and suck it into the system. If you want to add incremental legacy containers, then you have to buy Solaris 8 or Solaris 9 licenses for each instance running in a legacy container.

Further down in the Solaris kernel, the 10/08 update includes a feature called clock tick scalability, which allows for programmers to use APIs to help define priority of operations for threads as applications are running in highly threaded machines. This is the kind of control that so-called real-time operating systems have, according to Roberts, and it is useful for embedded applications that are not necessarily used to seeing as many threads as Sun can put into a box these days. ®

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