To its credit, Solaris 10 has features no other operating system on the market can claim. That’s right, Sun Microsystems is innovating in the operating system realm again, and it is doing it well.
DTrace: The Sun marketing department states that 30-fold speed improvements are achievable when using DTrace to identify system bottlenecks. This is based on a comparison of 32-bit x86 Solaris running on an AMD64 computer.
Assuming Sun can deliver on its amazing performance promises, Solaris 10 is a viable option for all servers, even those not running on Sun hardware.
DTrace is a Dynamic Tracing facility built into Solaris. It enables both programmers and administrators to quickly identify system problems by allowing them to look into exactly what userland programs or the operating system is doing. DTrace has a 41-chapter manual, a large part of which explains the usage of D, the DTrace language. Suspiciously similar to Awk, the D language provides a method by which administrators can ask arbitrary questions of the operating system. With more than 37,000 test points in the kernel, DTrace provides the most flexible method on the market for diagnosis of in-depth problems.
ZFS: ZFS, or Zetabyte File System, is a completely new file system that Sun developed. The first of its kind, ZFS integrates a volume manager into the file system itself. This enables Solaris 10 to create a “pool” of disks and then dynamically allocate space from them — in a way that is transparent to the user. If you need more space on a partition, simply add another disk to the pool, and tell Solaris to use more space. ZFS is quite amazing, but it will not be ready for initial Solaris 10 release. Sun plan to include ZFS with the first update, which is currently slated for six months after the January 2005 release.
Linux Binary Compatibility: Also not shipping with Solaris 10, is Linux binary compatibility. Sun has managed to support the execution of Linux programs natively. This means there is no memory-hogging emulation layer; Solaris simply understands the Linux ELF binary format. The caveat is that you must have all Linux libraries on which a given Linux program depends installed on that instance of Solaris.
Assuming this feature delivers on its promises, it will be a big win for Sun. Similar support in other operating systems requires a slow emulation layer.
Containers: Formerly named Zones, Containers are an invaluable tool. Containers isolate applications and processes from the rest of the system, without the need to run a virtual machine. Implemented very much like FreeBSD Jails, Containers are just like their own operating system, but in actuality they share the same memory and kernel. Containers have their own IP address, and the only way to communicate with an application inside a Container is via network services.
Other Noteworthy Features: Solaris Fault Management monitors for abnormalities and isolates malfunctioning devices to avoid complete system failure. Process Rights Management allows users to be granted full rights for specific processes, making root access unnecessary for all but a few administrators. Sun also improved X server, abandoning the homegrown Xsun in favor of Xorg.
Sun changed gears completely for Solaris 10, focusing on performance and machines with one to four processors of x86 and AMD64 origin. Sun told us the operating system’s goal is simple: Beat Red Hat. In benchmarking Solaris 10, everything, from boot times to primitive read() and write() operations, has been timed. The marketing department claims it has met, and exceeded that original goal.
We installed Solaris 10 on a wide variety of consumer hardware that included five laptops. Based on our experience we feel comfortable stating that anything listed in the Hardware Compatibility List on Sun’s BigAdmin Web Portal should function seamlessly with Solaris 10.
Solaris’ innovative and unique features set it apart from the crowd of proprietary Unix operating systems, and also launch Sun into the world of free desktops and servers. Solaris 10 itself is free, but support is not. Assuming Sun can deliver on its amazing performance promises, Solaris 10 is a viable option for all servers, even those not running on Sun hardware.
Pros: Amazing performance and support for x86 and AMD64 platforms; Innovative features in both performance and usability categories; Easier to install and maintain than previous Solaris versions.
Cons: No viable patch management improvements, aside from the same automatic vs. fully manual choice; Some important features will not be available with the initial release; Much manaul configuration necessary for it to coexist on the same physical drive as another operating system.
Reviewed by: Charlie Schluting
Original Review Date: 1/5/2005
Original Review Version: 10