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April 7, 2004

Sun rolls out next Solaris 10 Beta, tweaks Solaris 9

Sun Microsystems Inc yesterday announced that it had put out the March snapshot of the future Solaris 10 operating system through its Software Express beta program.

By CBR Staff Writer

With this updated beta of Solaris 10, Sun is finally letting people play with the N1 grid containers, which are akin to logical partitions. This is one of the biggest new features in Solaris 10, and something Sun has been working on for more than two years.

Last October, Sun decided to do more or less monthly betas of Solaris 10 to give eager customers a preview of the technologies it was cooking up, and to give it a large but not unmanageable pool of beta testers to put the new Solaris features through their paces. In prior betas, Sun has rolled out dynamic resource pools (which relate to the Solaris container partitions, but have other uses) through the integration of Sun Resource Manager with containers, a much peppier TCP/IP stack, a very cool feature in Solaris Volume Manager that allows disks within a RAID group to be moved around without having to rebuild the RAID groups (this is a big deal), and another neat function called DTrace function, which allows system administrators and developers to poke around the Solaris kernel as it is running and see what is going on inside the system through some 30,000 software probes. DTrace can identify performance bottlenecks and tell coders and admins how to fix them, yielding more performance for no new hardware cost.

With this update of Software Express for Solaris (the formal name of the Solaris 10 beta program), Sun is adding specific support for the V20z servers with Solaris 10 as well as on other Opteron boxes. The latest Solaris 10 beta will also be able to run on the new Jaguar UltraSparc-IV processors that Sun announced in March and is gradually rolling into its midrange servers right now.

But the grid containers are probably what is going to cause Sun’s customers to go out and try the latest Solaris 10 beta. These grid containers, which were called zones and developed under the code name Kevlar, are abstractions that create a virtual machine on top of the Solaris kernel and allow it to be dynamically sliced and diced. These containers abstract features such as processor and memory resources and provide fault and security isolation for applications running within a container. As far as applications and administrators are concerned, a container looks like a full, isolated, unique instance of Solaris running. But it is a virtualized Solaris, and in fact, there is only one Solaris kernel and one instance of common system services (such as a file system) supporting all of the containers. Each container things it owns the world, in effect. And they can expand and contract as needed, and be restarted after a crash to provide a kind of failover recovery that only IBM has offered in its MVS-OS/390-z/OS mainframes and OS/400 midrange servers.

According to Bill Moffitt, group manager of Solaris product marketing, since October, Sun has fielded 10,000 downloads of the Solaris 10 beta, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that Sun is charging for this to its commercial customers.

It has taken off like wildfire, and it is an important milestone for Solaris 10, he says. The Solaris Express previews are available for free for non-commercial users, but commercial customers have to pay $99 to participate. Having anted up, they get the preview of the Solaris 10 software and also get detailed Solaris roadmaps. The next Solaris Express snapshot will come out shortly, perhaps by the end of the month.

Jack O’Brien, group marketing manager for X86 platforms (which means he helps Sun peddle both Solaris for X86 and Linux), estimates that anywhere from 20% to 40% of the Solaris 10 beta downloads are for X86-based machines. He also says that within the past year, Sun has shipped a half million Solaris 9 for X86 licenses, and that the shipment rate is growing dramatically. All of this for an operating system that many at Sun wanted to kill to preserve the Sparc-Solaris goose that used to lay golden eggs. In a world dominated by cheap X86 servers, Sun had to shift its focus to being agnostic about the hardware so it could protect Solaris.

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We are obviously biased about wanting people to buy our hardware, says O’Brien, but we want to and need to enable Solaris for X86 on as many platforms as possible.

Solaris 10 will be concurrently available for and bug-for-bug compatible on both Sparc and X86 platforms in the September-October timeframe. And it will come out earlier if new Sun software boss John Loiacono has his way. Earlier this year, when he was not yet in the top software job but was just managing Solaris and Linux at Sun, Loiacono said he was very eager to get Solaris 10 on the Opteron processors running in 64-bit mode ahead of Microsoft Corp’s support for 64-bit Windows Server 2003 on those processors. Solaris 9 already runs in 32-bit mode on Sun’s own Opteron-based Sun Fire V20z servers, and can also be run on a variety of non-Sun Opteron boxes.

Sun yesterday also tweaked the production-level Solaris 9 operating system with release 4/04, which brings support for more features in both the Intel Corp Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors. (Sun does not support the Itanium 2 line of 64-bit chips from Intel, although it has created a version of Solaris 9 for that chip.) Specifically, Solaris 9 now supports the SSE and SSE2 instruction extensions in the Xeon and Opteron processors; it also supports the HyperThreading simultaneous multithreading that Intel offers with the Xeons. The SSE/SSE2 functions can now be accessed by the Solaris kernel and by Java Virtual Machines running on Solaris. That updated Solaris 9 also brings support for the new dual-core UltraSparc-IV processor, which is used in the Sun Fire 4900, 6900, 20000, and 25000 servers. Finally, the new Sun Blade 1500 and 2500 workstations are also supported with Solaris 9.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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