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VNU Net: Sun Microsystems Solaris 8

Aug 22, 2000, 01:44 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Ian Murphy)

By Ian Murphy, VNU Net

As users struggle to migrate their existing infrastructures to Microsoft's Windows 2000, Sun Microsystems has been on the offensive with Solaris 8, the latest version of its rival operating system.

Inside Solaris 8 there are some interesting technological and directional changes that seem to underpin Sun's belief in itself and in Unix. The company is still embroiled in a bitter court battle with Microsoft, and has failed to take advantage of the possibilities that Java provided. On the defensive over claims of proprietary behaviour in its Java licensing mechanism, Jiro, Jini and other Sun initiatives are not core to the first release.

Under the bonnet
To minimise downtime, Solaris 8 offers a live upgrade mechanism that allows a boot partition to be built and required drivers to be installed, while earlier versions continue to run and support users. The biggest benefits of this come during deployment, where systems can be prepped while support staff are around, and rebooted into Solaris 8 once the weekly back-up is complete. The maximum time remains for final testing before users arrive for work the following week. In the past, replacing hardware was a consideration with each major software upgrade simply to minimise the potential for failure.

Sun has also provided hot patching of the operating system (OS) without a reboot. There are enhanced utilities providing a major aid for debugging critical errors and for analysing crash dumps and core files. Error messages received before a reboot or crash of the OS are saved for later viewing.

The imminent arrival of Intel's Itanium processors sees Solaris extending the Intel port. Unfortunately, this creates something of a problem. Inside the core, or Sparc, version of Solaris 8, both 32-bit and 64-bit are supported, allowing developers to take advantage of faster execution but with hugely increased memory addressing. For large data-oriented applications, this is a critical issue. Until Itanium finally ships, the Intel port is only 32-bit, with Sun yet to commit to a 64-bit delivery schedule. It may therefore lose momentum against Microsoft, as the Redmond company ships its first 64-bit beta version of Windows 2000 during the third quarter of this year.

Adding functionality
Previous Solaris versions used add-ons for increased OS functionality and these were mostly expensive packages. Solaris 8 integrates many of these into the OS, ensuring that management of the packages is coherent. Wizards simplify common tasks, saving significant amounts of time spent writing Perl or shell scripts to automate frequent processes.

There is a new Admin Pack with improved administration available through third-party products and multi-OS environments. This sees Sun moving to full support for the web-based enterprise management standard. The Management Console is an example of this. Available from a range of OSs or through integration with products from other vendors, it uses a Windows interface. Despite efforts to position its products as departmental and enterprise servers, this perhaps shows that Sun recognises it is seen more as a high-end solution administered by people with limited Unix experience.

Support is provided for existing clustering services (version 2.2) and is promised for Cluster 3.0 in the forthcoming service pack. This update promises an increase in the number of nodes to eight, global device naming and a new cluster file system. There will also be new application program interfaces to ensure developers can take full advantage of the new features.

Bandwidth issues
Through the Solaris bandwidth manager, administrators can control user bandwidth inside a corporate network by breaking down network traffic into various classes, and then allocating both prioritisation and guaranteed bandwidth to services. This uses an OS utility to do the controlling.

The introduction of a dual internet protocol (IP) stack allows access to both IPv4 and IPv6, so that network administrators can look at extending existing network infrastructures, taking user demand for access into account and implementing additional features.

The introduction of devices like personal digital assistants and mobile phones means a potential shortage of IP addresses. As Voice over IP becomes a requirement within organisations, the joint IPv4/IPv6 stack will enable administrators to migrate fixed devices across to IPv6. A component that Solaris 8 has failed to deliver is support for mobile IP, but this is also promised in the first service pack. IPSec, which is a key requirement for designing virtual private networks, is available for the IPv4 stack, but Sun has yet to incorporate it into the IPv6 stack. Again, this is expected with the first service pack.

Security features
Security control mechanisms include support for Kerberos and lightweight protocols for access and directory control, leaving interoperability with Microsoft 2000 still to be resolved. Sun has also introduced a new role-based access control mechanism similar to that of other OSs. The limited access control inherent within the Unix OS remains, but provides a halfway house between the default environment, and secure Unix.

Embracing open source
A large number of open source applications such as Apache 1.3.9 are supported, and with the iPlanet and Netscape suites, Sun has provided some of the most widely-used and highly-respected web environments available. You will need to check the release notes carefully though, as many of the iPlanet products are supplied for development and not production usage.

LXRUN allows Linux binaries to run natively on top of the Intel port, letting Sun take advantage of the growing Linux applications environment. But it would have been more interesting if Sun had developed a tool that allows the code to be executed directly on top of the Sparc implementation.

Close, but no cigar
Despite providing a wide range of alternative tools and utilities, Java is not at the heart of Solaris 8. Support for Java in the first release of Solaris 8 is based around Java 2 Standard Edition, and while there is support for Enterprise JavaBeans, these are only for developers, and licensing issues need checking.

Sun has also failed to include its Jini or Jiro technologies, even though it will be including relevant components in the future along with new hardware. There should be Jiro management components in the first service pack, and it is hoped that Sun will not miss the opportunity to include this Java-based technology.

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