Sun Solaris -- Leading Internet OS offers scalable performance and situation-specific bundles

Sun Solaris -- Leading Internet OS offers scalable performance and situation-specific bundles

June 25, 2002

Sun Microsystems advertises the fact that its systems do the heavy work on the Internet, and for once the advertising hype is not out of line with reality. The Sun Solaris operating system -- especially when combined with 64-bit high-performance SPARC-based servers -- has the power and the tools for managing the busiest Web sites. And because it's based on an inherently scalable operating system (UNIX), Solaris can serve the needs of almost any Web site, ranging from smaller departmental intranet servers to large-scale commercial installation working with secure transactions on an e-commerce level.

It's difficult -- but not impossible -- to separate the operating system from the hardware. Solaris runs on the Intel Pentium platform, though you'd be hard pressed to find many houses running it on anything other than Sun's SPARC servers. And while there aren't many other operating systems available for the SPARC architecture (although there is a port of Linux for SPARC systems, available from Red Hat Software), Solaris is that platform's OS of choice.

It's easy to evaluate how well Solaris would work as your Internet/intranet operating system. But first, we should explain exactly how Sun sells Solaris these days. It used to be that Sun offered a straight SunOS -- which was basically UNIX with some Sun graphical modifications. SunOS then morphed into Solaris 2.5 and 2.6, which took SunOS and added some system-management tools, among other things.

These days we have the Solaris Operating Environment 7, which is the core operating system. In addition, Sun packages three additional server configurations combining the basic Solaris operating system with application-specific server and management tools. They are: the Solaris Easy Access Server (designed for departmental situations with a lot of PCs and other PC servers), the Solaris Enterprise Server (designed for larger businesses and e-commerce situations) and the Solaris ISP Server (designed for Internet Service Providers). You can purchase the basic Solaris operating Environment either separately or as part of the three extensions. (We'll discuss each during the course of this review.) In addition, the operating system can be purchased separately from Sun along with any SPARC server hardware configuration you need (you'll need to buy only the software if you plan on running the Solaris Operating Environment on an Intel platform).

The basic Solaris Operating Environment is built on UNIX and includes the following:

  • The core operating system, including the kernel, APIs, commands and libraries.
  • The SunSoft Java Virtual Machine and Java Development Kit (JDK).
  • System diagnostic and system analysis tools.
  • Support for the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) graphical interface.
Solaris Easy Access Server
The Solaris Easy Access Server is designed for PC networks, with management tools designed more for the PC system administrator than the UNIX guru. Central in this focus is a Web-based installation system, complete with wizards designed to install and configure the operating system as well as Solaris and Java applications. In addition, the Solaris Management Console is used for administering and configuring Solaris servers.

Specific to the PC environment in Solaris Easy Access Server are the SunLink tools, which allows Solaris to act like a Windows NT server and offering services like authentication, file, print and directory (including DHCP and DNS) on Solaris servers, all of which can be administered using NT tools. In addition, Solaris Easy Access Server offers Sun Directory Services, based on LDAP. However, Easy Access Server is missing some key services for an intranet environment, specifically lacking a Web server and a mail server. One might argue that it doesn't make much sense to use a more expensive Solaris server to do the job of a less expensive Windows NT server, unless you just plain didn't like Microsoft. In addition, there might be some problems in introducing a SunSoft Java VM into a Windows NT network -- if a Java application has been designed for use in a Microsoft environment and assumes the presence of a Microsoft Java VM (as do many Windows NT-based application servers), then you could run into problems when utilizing the Java VM.

Still, Solaris does have it's advantages. You'll want to consider using Easy Access Server in a situation where there are other Sun servers running on the network but you need to serve the needs of an existing Windows-based network. LDAP directory information can be replicated from elsewhere on the network and applied via Sun Directory Services. However, given the lack of Internet tools (and given our focus of evaluating operating systems based the presence and usability of Internet tools), we'd advise you to avoid the Easy Access Server -- it adds very little for the average Internet/intranet installation, except for (perhaps) the presence of LDAP services.