Sun Microsystems unveils a program that puts the enterprise-level operating system in the hands of existing customers for evaluation.
“The program is to let customers see what Solaris’ capabilities are and how it’s 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 work 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 more than 10,000 installations. Customers can either purchase a media kit (sets of CDs will go for $45, while DVDs will go for $30) or download CD images and burn their own CDs for installation.
This program will run until Solaris 9 is officially unveiled, which is expected to be some time in April or May. Even then, though, don’t expect to see a rush of companies adopting Solaris 9. On the enterprise level, upgrades occur slowly and only after a lot of internal testing.
“History tells us that upgrades happen 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 adopting 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 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.” Enterprises 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 in Solaris 9 is the integration of Kerberos authentication technology directly into the operating system.
Two other notable features in Solaris 9 are the inclusion of previously separate tools (the iPlanet Directory Server will be integrated into the operating system for scalable LDAP, as will the Solaris Resource Manager and Solaris Volume Manager) and a quarterly update manager.
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.”
Pricing for Solaris 9 has not been finalized, as Sun officials are contemplating a change in the pricing structure. Solaris upgrades are currently covered under some Solaris support contracts.
Initially, Solaris 9 will be available only for SPARC-based Sun servers, and there are no current plans to release Solaris 9 for Intel-based servers. While Sun will still support Solaris 8 on Intel for the remainder of Solaris 8’s life (which should be two more years), Moffitt says that Intel development does not fit within Sun’s core business. If there is customer demand for Solaris 9 on Intel — and there is little demand at the present time, Moffitt hinted — Sun could initialize development.