Sun Releases Solaris 9 for Early Access

Solaris 9 comes one step closer to final release today with Sun's unveiling of a program that puts the enterprise-level operating system in the hands of existing customers for evaluation.

The Early Access program will put Solaris 9 in hands of tens of thousands of users, who will then evaluate the new operating system.

"The program is to let customers see what Solaris's capabilities are and how its changed," says Bill Moffitt, product line manager for Solaris. "This is for IT and operations managers to put Solaris 9 on test machines to see that their internal operations works the way they expect."

This is the second phase of the early-release program; the first phase, which numbered roughly 3,000 installs, put Solaris 9 in the hands of a small group of developers to test Solaris applications under the new operating system. This second phase will encompass over 10,000 installations. Customers can either purchase a media kit (sets of CDs will go for 5, while DVDs will go for 0), while the more adventurous can download CD images and burn their own CDs for installation.

The program will run for two or three months until Solaris 9 is officially unveiled sometime in April or May. Even then, don't expect to see a rush of corporations adopting Solaris 9. On the enterprise level, upgrades occur slowly and only after a lot of internal testing.

"History tells us that upgrades happens on an exponential cycle -- it will be very slow at first, as customers purchase new machines with Solaris 9 on them, and they will be the primary means of increasing the Solaris 9 installed base," Moffitt says. "Only after that will existing machines have Solaris 9 installed, although it may be different with Solaris 9 due to security concerns. We see a rather small percentage of our installed base will adopt Solaris 9 in the first few months, and then an increasing percentage over time."

Echoing Bill Gates' proclamation last week that the immediate future of Microsoft Windows would be in enhanced security, Moffitt says that one of the prime reasons why customers would move up to Solaris 9 is enhanced security.

"We are making sure that we are building the kernel of Solaris to be as robust as possible," he says. "That includes simple hardening -- making it harder for loose ends to turn into back doors.

"One of the ways we are doing this is disabling stack execution, which will prevent buffer overflow attacks," he added. "By making changes to all the commands inside of Solaris, it effectively turns off buffer overflow attacks. Developers can also use this to make their applications more secure." Companies that want to take advantage of this capability will need to upgrade to Solaris 9; the technology will not be retrofitted onto Solaris 8.

Another key security enhancement is the integration of Kerberos authentication technology directly into the operating system.

Other new notable features in Solaris 9 include the inclusion of previously separate tools (the iPlanet Directory Server will be integrated into the operating system for scalable LDAP, as will be Solaris Resource Manager and Solaris Volume Manager) and the introduction of a quarterly update manager. Both Solaris Resource Manager and Solaris Volume Manager were available as separate product requiring a separate purchase, but both will be free of change as part of Solaris 9. 

So will early adopters be blown away by Solaris 9? Probably not initially, as most of the changes in Solaris 9 are under the hood.

"Yes, Solaris 9 is different, but not radically different from Solaris 8 update 6 or 7," Moffitt says. "The changes in the kernel are drastic, but externally the differences are quite small."

This article was originally published on Jan 23, 2002
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