Among enterprise-class operating systems, Sun Microsystems' Solaris already carries a reputation for solidly supporting mission-critical applications. In its latest incarnation, Solaris 9, the OS gives enterprise customers a wide range of additions and improvements that will make a purchase or upgrade highly worthwhile. Key focal points in this release include additional security measures, increased workload manageability, simplified administration, and application scalability and reliability.
The 64-bit Solaris 9 operating system compares favourably with rivals in its class, such as AIX, HP-UX, Linux and .Net servers. For example, whereas Solaris 9 can support up to 106 SPARC-based CPUs, competing platforms support a maximum of 64 CPUs. In addition, Solaris 9 supports up to 576GB of memory, but rival operating systems such as IBM's AIX top out at 256GB. This level of support enables enterprise application scalability without increasing hardware investments.
IT administrators will find a number of useful additions and enhancements in this Solaris release. Support for live updates to the operating system is now included, so system updates can be performed without taking enterprise servers offline. In addition, a new Patch Manager contained in the included CDE GUI makes it easier to keep Solaris servers and workstations up to date with the latest patches.
Sun includes both the iPlanet Directory Server and iPlanet Web Server with Solaris 9. We had no trouble configuring either of these built-in servers. We were also able to implement the latest Apache Web Server on our test Solaris 9 systems. In addition, we used included Samba support to integrate Solaris 9 with some Windows-based servers that we had on the test network.
This Solaris release includes improvements that make it easier to manage enterprise workloads and available storage, whether on a single server or in clustered application environments. Built-in resource management and dynamic partitioning promise to ease constraints in heavy, mixed workload deployments supporting transactional activities and application access.
We also noted that the Solaris 9 file system is noticeably faster than those in previous Solaris releases. This version of the operating system boasts threading performance improvements as well as memory access improvements, particularly important in clustered application deployments.
One especially useful tool in this release is the Web Start Flash. This allowed us to create a base installation of Solaris 9 and quickly replicate it on other systems. Web Start Flash should save administrators a significant amount of time when installing or upgrading systems.
Administrators will also like the Management Console, now in release 2.1. A big improvement over the old AdminTool, the Management Console gives server managers better control over system resources, storage facilities, and user accounts. We found it very easy to create new disk volumes, gauge system performance, and monitor user activity and accounts.
Security also gets a boost in this latest Solaris release. Support is included for secure shell, which increases authentication capabilities. In addition, IPsec with Internet Key Exchange (128-bit encryption) is included, as is a Kerberos v5 Server to support single sign-on capabilities. We also had no trouble configuring the included firewall, SunScreen 3.2.
Solaris 9's improvements can also be found on the client side. The operating system is a good match for customers who want a solid and secure desktop operating system. New in this release is support for the familiar Gnome user interface (Version 1.4 initially, and Gnome 2.0 as soon as it becomes available). The Gnome interface makes it easier for enterprises to adopt Solaris 9 as a low-cost desktop operating system as well as a high-performance server platform.
Like IBM, Sun has begun to adopt a broad set of open-source software technologies. For example, in this release of Solaris, customers will find the Bash (Bourn Again Shell), which enables most scripts created on Linux to run on Solaris without requiring any changes.
A number of popular open-source utilities are included, such as gzip, bzip2, ncftp, and gtar. Support for the glib open-source library and GTK+ toolkit makes it easier for developers to use open-source technologies to build and deploy applications on Solaris systems.
This release of Solaris holds a lot of value for the enterprise and it is well worth deploying. For business strategists, Solaris 9 offers worthwhile improvements that boost the scalability, reliability, and security of mission-critical business applications. For IT administrators, the management tools included in this release will shorten the amount of time it takes to complete management tasks on the platform. And enterprises seeking a new option for the end-user desktop should examine available Sun workstation hardware together with Solaris 9's new desktop interface, tools, and applications as a useful alternative to Wintel boxes.