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Changing the Way the Sun Shines With Solaris 9

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jul 11, 2002


Sun Microsystems' Solaris is the best-known and most widely used commercial (i.e., non-Linux) Unix around. Solaris 9 is more than an incremental update to the operating system; it's a major change in approach for Sun.

Sun Microsystems' Solaris is perhaps the best-known and most widely used commercial Unix operating system. Solaris 9 is more than an incremental update to the operating system -- it's a major change in approach for Sun. Logan Harbaugh reviews this latest version of Sun's industrial-strength Unix for the SPARC platform.

In addition to offering enhanced functionality and manageability, the new version features a very wide variety of tools and add-ons, including the iPlanet Directory Server and Web Server, Samba support for integration with Windows networks, a choice of both the KDE and GNOME 1.4 interfaces, a Patch Manager for automating updates, and BASH (Bourn Again Shell), which can run most Linux shell scripts without requiring changes.

In fact, so much software is included with Solaris 9 that we were unable to install all of it on an aging Sparc Ultra 10 with a tiny 4 GB hard drive. The system was upgraded from Solaris 7, and we found that the basic install went smoothly, although since the original root partition wasn't large enough for Solaris 9, the drive had to be re-partitioned, resulting in all of the installed applications and user information being lost.

Bearing in mind that we skipped the Solaris 8 upgrade, the improvements in installation, setup and administration of the system are really substantial. The installation tool is a big improvement, with disk partitioning tools, a package management area that allows for a minimal install, and useful defaults. Further, the Web Start Flash utility allows administrators to create a default installation and automatically deploy it to other systems. It's no longer necessary to be an experienced administrator to be able to upgrade a system (although that still helps).

The Resource Manager is an improvement that will be welcome to server administrators, since it allows fine-grained, dynamic control of application resource allocation, including memory and processor utilization among multiple applications.

LDAP support, a directory server, and role-based rights management will make enterprise managers happy, although the directory server is limited to 200,000 entries total for the enterprise without an additional license. Unfortunately, replication of the LDAP directory to directories on other operating systems is not allowed without an additional license. Tools to transition from the old Sun standard NIS+ to LDAP are available as well.

A live updates feature allows patches and updates to the system to be installed without taking the server down, which is extremely useful in the 24x7 corporate environment. The Patch Manager allows administrators to keep track of patch levels and easily update systems.

The new Management Console is much easier to use than the old AdminTool and more fully integrated; we found no gaps that required direct editing of files. The operating system was somewhat slow to launch and run on our system, but setting up accounts and controlling and monitoring system resources was much simpler.

The basic system tools and utilities have been updated as well, including sendmail 8.12, BIND 8.2.4, GNU wget 1.6, Samba 2.2.2, Apache 1.3.20, and Netscape 6.2.1. The Volume Manager allows the creation of RAID 0, 1, or 5 volumes and is integrated into the management console. WBEM (Web-based enterprise management) Services 2.5 is included, for integration with enterprise management systems. SunScreen 3.2, a full-featured firewall, is included and easy to install and configure.

There is also a nice selection of freeware and open source utilities and libraries, including the GNU grep, gzip and gtar utilities, the Glib 1.2.10 library, the GTK+ 1.2.10 GIMP toolkit, several graphics libraries, and the Libxml2 2.3.6 XML library.

A variety of productivity software is bundled with the upgrade, including the KDE interface and KDE Office, StarOffice and Star Suite and the GNOME 1.4 release. The GNOME GUI interface is a welcome update to the CDE GUI interface, although it is not supported by Sun. GNOME 2.0 is expected with the first Solaris 9 service pack.

These new utilities and extras, however, are not going to win converts from Linux or Windows. Although they are a step in the right direction, the limited versions of the directory server and Sun ONE J2EE and messaging servers cannot compete with available directory and application servers on Linux or Windows servers, and the KDE or GNOME 1.4 interfaces are not yet up to the standards of the other platforms as workstations.

However, for single-CPU Solaris users, the upgrades are a substantial improvement, and well worth it. Enterprise users will need to balance the improvements of the live update tool, the patch manager, and improved application performance against the relatively high cost of the upgrade for servers (up to $400,000 for the DataCenter128 with up to 128 CPUs).

Pros: Lots of bundled software makes this version more competitive with other server operating systems; easy to manage due to a single consistent interface; simplified and easier to complete installation process

Cons: Pricing for the upgrade on multiprocessor systems may be cost prohibitive; while v9 is an improvement over previous versions, Solaris is still more difficult to install and administer than most server operating systems (and most Solaris administrators seem to be happy with this, seeing it as employment security)

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