Oracle sneaks out Solaris 10 refresh
Rather than wait two weeks for its own OpenWorld extravaganza, Oracle has snuck out the long-awaited update to the Solaris 10 operating system. The related Solaris Cluster clustering software and Solaris Studio development tools were also tweaked.
As usual, the release notes for the updated Solaris 10 have a little bit of information about the new features and a whole laundry list of bugs and errata that Oracle is aware of in the tweaked code. The Solaris 10 update 9/10 release notes and other documents can be found here . Oracle did not give any briefings about the Solaris 10 9/10 update, but John Fowler, executive vice president in charge of Oracle's Systems and Storage group, went over the update in a Webcast, which you can see here .
Fowler said that Solaris 10 update 9/10 included support for "exciting new hardware," but he did not say what that hardware might possibly be. (Oracle has not returned a request for further comment, as usual). The tweaked Solaris no doubt is ready to run any impending Sun Fire servers using the 16-core "Rainbow Falls" Sparc T3 processor, which was slated to be delivered at the middle of this year by Sun before it was acquired by Oracle and which could very well see the light of day at the OpenWorld event.
The Solaris 10 update no doubt supports the new Netra servers that Oracle just announced  as well as the refreshed Xeon-based server lineup that Oracle kicked out at the end of June , but the two recent Netra boxes (The CP3270 blade and the X4270 rack) and the two Sun Fire machines using Intel's Xeon 7500 processors (the X4470 and X4800) have not been added to the Solaris hardware compatibility list yet. (You can see the Solaris 10 HCL here ). But it is a safe guess - and you have to guess - that Solaris 10 update 9/10 supports these four machines.
Fowler said in the Webcast that Sun has in some way enhanced the physical-to-virtual conversions tools that made their debut  last October in the Solaris 10 10/09 update. The exact nature of these enhancements was not explained, but the tool is clever in that it allows for Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 software stacks running on physical servers to be sucked up and encapsulated in a Solaris 10 container (a virtual private server) and plunked down on a different physical server.
This capability originally debuted in July 2009 with Logical Domain  (LDom) 1.2 hypervisor for Sparc T series machines. This software is now known as Oracle VM for Sparc, and it now sports what Fowler called "increased reliability."
It is not clear if this P2V conversion works on other Sparc-based systems or on x64-based machines running Solaris, but clearly it would be desirable to do a P2V conversion on any Oracle server - provided you stay in the same instruction set, of course, and you end up in Solaris containers or LDoms. The LDoms can now have memory dynamically added and removed from domains without having to reboot the machine. LDoms also now have enhancements for virtual disk multipathing that allows a guest domain to keep running even if one of the service domains that feeds it data goes down.
Solaris 10 update 9/10 has been integrated with the networking features of Oracle's Real Application Clusters database clustering, and Fowler said that the performance of the Java runtime for Solaris has been goosed to make Oracle's WebLogic middleware run faster. The Dynamic Trace (DTrace) performance monitoring tool in Solaris 10 can now non-invasively peek into a working Java runtime environment.
The drivers for the FlashCache flash memory for servers and the Zettabyte File System (ZFS) have also been tweaked to coordinate with Oracle databases better, and Oracle's databases can now make use of the integrated, wirespeed encryption co-processors etched into the latest Sparc T2 and T2+ processors. (Solaris 10 update 9/10 also supports the AES-NI encryption that Intel baked into its "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600 processors earlier this year.) There's a slew of new adapter cards that now have drivers in the updated Solaris as well.
Perhaps the most important announcement that Oracle made concerning Solaris 10 is that the OS has been synchronized with the quarterly patch updates that Oracle does for its database and middleware software. Now Solaris will be updated with the same cadence, and moreover, Fowler said that Solaris 10 is now part of the nightly validation testing that Oracle does for its database and middleware stack.
"This is only the beginning of how we are going to improve the reliability and consistency of Solaris when running the Oracle stack," said Fowler.
Oracle's Solaris Cluster, formerly known by the "Full Moon" or Sun Cluster name, has been revved to a 3.3 release as well, and now Oracle WebLogic Server, Siebel CRM, and SAP ERP suites can be encapsulated in Solaris containers and clustered for high availability. Solaris containers can also use network attached storage arrays (including Sun's own NAS products) instead of direct-attached storage arrays. Solaris Cluster 3.3 can now use ZFS as its file system on Sun's Storage 7XXX NAS boxes, and the HA clustering product spanning Oracle servers can use InfiniBand as the connectivity to storage arrays as well as to the outside world.
Solaris Cluster 3.3 has been equipped with dynamic load distribution for applications running on the clusters and can actively monitor storage resources as it has been doing for server resources. (The real question is what place does Solaris Cluster have in a world where Oracle would seem to want to RAC everything).
The Solaris Studio compiler set has been updated with a 12.2 release as well, and C, C++, and Fortran applications compiled with the earlier 12.1 release can see as much as a per cent performance improvement if they are compiled under 12.2, according to Fowler. The compiler tools have a new memory debugger tool that works on executables, the performance analyzer has improved Java profiling and run-to-run comparison, and the compilers have tweaks that make applications more easily parallelized and run better on multicore/multithreaded platforms.
"This is critical," explained Fowler, "because the Sparc roadmap includes systems with thousands of threads and hundreds of cores."
Then again, Sun said the same thing in 1997. We'll see. What Sun has been promising with Solaris 11, due next year , is that the operating system will scale from a few terabytes of memory and hundreds of threads to "double digit" terabytes of memory and thousands of threads. As El Reg reported  last month, five years hence, Oracle plans to kick out a Sparc box with a server with 128 cores, a stunning 16,384 threads, and supporting 64 TB of main memory and 256 logical domains.
Such a big bad box, Fowler said in August when discussing the Ellisonized Sparc server roadmap, would be able to crank through 120 million transactions per minute on OLTP workloads - forty times that of the forthcoming Sparc T3 machine - and do 50,000 Java operations per second - ten times that Sparc T3 box.
You can download Solaris 10 update 9/10 off the Oracle Technology Network here  for free for either x64 or Sparc iron, but it is not intended for production purposes. If you put it into production, you are supposed to pay for Oracle Premier Support.
On non-Oracle iron, that support will run you $1,000 per socket per year on machines with from one to four sockets and $2,000 per socket per year on machines with more than four sockets. On Oracle iron with Solaris configured on it, Solaris 10 support costs 8 per cent of the invoiced price of the system you buy from Oracle per year.
The server chipheads over at Ideas International have just put out an analysis of Solaris 10 support costs here . By the way, Oracle is charging 12 per cent of the street price for the system as the annual support rate for the physical server, including the operating system.
Bootnote: This story originally said the annual hardware support was 12 per cent of the cost of the iron. This is incorrect. The 12 per cent covers the cost of both the hardware and the software in the Oracle system. ®