For starters, the long-awaited ZFS! Sun also came through on its promises, introduced some product enhancements and resolved the normal list of bug fixes that accompany an update.
In addition to the long-awaited ZFS, the second update of Solaris 10 features the Solaris Fault Manager for AMD64, IPv6 support for IPFilter and more.
With this update, Solaris 10 strives for an even wider margin with the new features available in Update 2. Read on and find out why we’re excited.
ZFS ZFS ZFS
The Zetabyte File System (ZFS) has finally arrived. ZFS is both a file system and volume manager — the first of its kind. The 128-bit file system can support file systems of incomprehensible size. Although many claim ZFS is overkill, Sun believes that 50 years from now, when everyone can still use ZFS, it will have proven its point.
Sun’s marketing team was quick to point out to us a fancy slide that compares ZFS to other volume managers. The first page was filled with Solaris Volume Manager (SVM) commands to mirror two disks, create file systems, and mount them. This takes roughly 15 minutes to complete. The next slide shows three zfs commands that complete the same setup in just a few seconds. Sun didn’t take the plunge and directly compare ZFS to Veritas’ offerings, but we did.
We found by and large that Solaris 10 outperformed VxVM and the Veritas File System, both in terms of real performance and usability.
ZFS operates on an entirely new concept: pools. You create pools, and within a pool you can mix mirrors, stripes and RAIDz (RAID 5 +) volumes. To allocate a file system from the pool simply say ‘zfs create 100g /foo’ and near instantly you have a 100GB file system on /foo.
The mixed-type concept is a little difficult to understand, but note that Sun isn’t implying you should combine slow disks within the same pool as fast storage. We’ll take a deeper look at ZFS in a future article, so stay tuned.
Fault Management, Now for AMD64
The Solaris Fault Manager is a self-diagnosis feature designed to detect problems before they crash a server. Although that isn’t possible 100 percent of the time, a large portion of failures do have some warning signs. In Update 2, Solaris 10 supports hardware diagnostics on the AMD64 servers. It was assumed that Sun’s Fault Management, a big advantage for large data centers, would work only on Sun-designed hardware. This isn’t the case; Fault Manager can now be used when diagnosing any AMD64 server.
The Fault Manager will detect CPU, memory and IO errors. If errors continue beyond a threshold, Solaris will remove the affected hardware from service. Of course, it’s also very easy to find out precisely which CPU or memory module has failed. People used to boot a Linux live CD to diagnose hardware problems in Windows machines. Now you can boot Solaris to diagnose hardware issues on Linux machines too. A group of people have taken OpenSolaris and created a bootable live CD called BeleniX, which provides an excellent means for testing out features important to you.
Sadly, here we couldn’t get details beyond those found in the marketing material. Notably, Sun added IPv6 support for IPFilter. New for this update is an SSL acceleration proxy built into the kernel. Some mysterious UDP enhancements appear to exist, too. There were also speed improvements from 20 percent to 100 percent, depending.
Solaris can now say “we’ve got that.” The Postgres database server is now standard and is in fact bundled with other free software, including the Apache Web server. This means customers with a service contract can get support for Postgres through Sun.
If Sun continues this route, the systems’ vendor may find itself supporting a majority of the heavily used open source software packages out there.
Not new, but certainly noteworthy whenever talking about Solaris, is Containers. Also known as zones, this is Solaris’ operating system-level virtualization software. Using Containers, you can very easily, and with little overhead, run multiple copies of Solaris on the same kernel. The most common use of zones is for server consolidation, and second is for secure hosting of Web or application servers in a cordoned environment. Put simply, Solaris makes virtual servers possible.
The security struggle never ends, and Sun has always been on the leading edge of security enhancements. Aside from the Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) features used to allow limited administrative roles, Solaris also includes Process Rights Management. Limiting perils, such as privilege escalation and the execution of setuid (run as root) files, enables Solaris to carefully obtain a higher level of security than most other Unix variants available today.
Coupled with Containers, RBAC, and Process Rights Management, the new IPFilter enhancements make bring a strong set of security tools to Solaris 10. The only thing we find lacking in the security realm is ZFS: It doesn’t support encryption. This is slated for a future Solaris 10 update.
Solaris 10 continues to expand its territory in AMD64 servers’ installed base. Sun is constantly adding and improving hardware support. At the same time, it is growing its list of supported open source software. There’s no denying Sun has moved beyond the Big Iron market, in no small part due to Solaris 10.