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Solaris 10 Gets Ready to Roll

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Solaris 10: Sun’s creative and full-featured operating system aimed at everyone from the home user to
enterprise server customers.

Enterprises, rev your engines. Solaris 10 is on its way. We take the latest version of the operating system out for a test drive.

For some time now, Sun has been trying to push its way into non-proprietary Unix markets, and Solaris 10 is its crowning achievement. An abundance of innovative new features, mostly aimed at administrators rather than users, contributes further to Solaris 10’s value proposition. An interesting balance of administrative features and support for new hardware implies Sun is trying hard to maintain its current niche, as well as move into server and workstation territories where Linux has encroached.

Sun’s claims of lightning-fast boot times are well-founded. The Solaris 10 kernel loaded almost three times as fast as Solaris 9 on the same hardware.

According to Chris Ratcliffe, group manager, Solaris Marketing, the company is, “absolutely 100 percent dedicated” to making Solaris useful on the x86 and 64-bit AMD architectures. As Sun has attempted x86 support twice before and later left it behind, this is an interesting turn of events.

Version 10 continues the trend of using the same codebase for x86- and SPARC-based systems. Of course, hardware-specific features will not work in the absence of the hardware, like Sun’s high availability features on large mainframes.

Overall, we are inclined to agree with Mr. Ratcliffe: Sun is dedicated.

Sun has already begun selling competitively priced dual 64-bit AMD servers in preparation for the Solaris 10 release later this month. Solaris 10 comes with true 64-bit AMD support, which results in a three-fold speed improvement out of the box, compared to a system running the current 32-bit x86 Solaris. Not really an apples-to-apples comparison but an interesting statistic nonetheless.


Bearing in mind that there’s no guarantee Solaris 10 will run on everything x86 flavored, we tested it first on commodity hardware. Using a dual Pentium III and Intel motherboard, Solaris 10 (beta 72) installed without a hitch. The installer was quite resource-intensive and reminiscent of the Solaris 9 GUI install with a little Red Hat flair thrown in.

We noticed that when connecting to the serial port of a server-class motherboard, the supporting console redirection still causes the familiar text mode installer to start. Also, for those installing Solaris on any of the popular new Sun Fire V class SPARC servers, text is the only option, since the servers lack video capabilities.

Solaris 10 now has four CDs, but, as is the case with Solaris 9, only the first CD is needed for a basic install. Although a bit prettier than Solaris 9, the GUI installer definitely takes some time to load. Once it starts, it’s the same old song and dance. Partition your drive, set up networking information, select package set, go get coffee. Anyone who has installed Red Hat or any RPM-based Linux should be able to complete a basic Solaris GUI install successfully. This is another key component of Sun’s move toward being an operating system for all systems.

One blaringly obvious drawback is that the Solaris 10 installer seems to claim a disk for its own. While it is possible to run Solaris 10 on a system running another operating system, the installer doesn’t provide an obvious way to do this, and the documentation is of little help. The installer doesn’t offer a way to resize or move existing NTFS or ext2/3 partitions, and UFS can’t be resized. Doing this is non-trivial and requires the manual layout of a partition for Solaris.

The installer seems to have some fairly advanced features that didn’t fare well when tested. Although installing the automatic, non-custom Solaris 10 worked adequately every time, choosing “custom” or “upgrade” in the installer lead us down perilous roads.

Using a Sun Blade 150 workstation running Solaris 9 in a very LDAP/NFS centric environment, we started the “upgrade” install from beta72 SPARC Solaris images. These were downloaded from Sun’s public Web site. Once the installer finished its initialization, it asked where we’d like to backup the existing install — another useful feature.

We chose the automatic upgrade install, which consumes 2.5 GB of space. However, this install option failed because our partitions were not large enough for all the features Sun wanted to install. Restarting the installer and choosing a custom upgrade brought the installer to a package selection area. We began deleting large features, and the installer dutifully reported package dependencies. This was mostly an educated guessing game, but we carved out a small enough system to let the installer continue the upgrade using established partitions.

The installer finished without asking for any of the other three CDs. A reboot seemed to succeed, until the display manager tried running: It produced a beautiful segmentation fault and an abrupt return to the text login. Nobody really expected an upgrade to work at all, but this was quite impressive, up until the end.

We were also pleased to note that Sun’s claims of lightning-fast boot times are well-founded. The Solaris 10 kernel loaded almost three times as fast as Solaris 9 on the same hardware.

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