Solaris 10 downloads grow, but usage unclear

At its quarterly product-launch announcement in Washington, D.C., this week, Sun Microsystems Inc. touted the fact that there have been 1.3 million downloads of Solaris 10 since the operating system was released last November.

Sun officials said they are pleased with the pace of the downloads. But John Loiacono, executive vice president of the company’s software group, said in an interview that it’s difficult to know precisely what users are doing with the operating system.

Until Sun releases the first update of Solaris 10 later this year and then maps installations of that version back to users who previously downloaded the software, “it’s hard to tell whether someone is just kicking the tires or it’s a new installation,” Loiacono said.

Gerry Vest, systems administrator at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, is testing Solaris 10. Vest has just begun the process, but he said he’s seeing promised performance improvements as a result of Sun’s rewrite of the operating system’s TCP/IP stack.

The research lab is running Solaris 8 in production, and Vest said he expects to move to the new operating system within six months. He added that eventually he will likely run Solaris 10 on about 700 dual-CPU servers equipped with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Athlon processors.

IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky said that although Sun might be happy with the volume of downloads thus far, “a download doesn’t translate to production use.” He said Sun needs to show that new customers are adopting Solaris 10 and that open-source developers are working with the software, which is being released under a royalty-free license.

Sun officials this week also put the spotlight on grid computing, an area the company is focusing on heavily as both a utilitylike service and a technology offering for internal deployments. Sun is launching a “sneak peek” program for its Sun Grid Compute Utility, which will let users buy CPU cycles on an hourly basis. The service is due to become available in the summer, along with an offering that provides storage for a monthly fee.

Sun said users that want to run computationally intensive applications, batch processes and other jobs that aren’t transaction-based have expressed interest in the utility model.

For now, though, company officials don’t think users are ready to adopt Sun Grid for transaction processing.

James Kennedy, a strategic programs system engineer at the national headquarters of the American Red Cross in Falls Church, Va., said he found Sun’s N1 grid technology attractive for internal use. But running applications on a utility basis poses problems because of regulatory and security concerns, he added.

Among the products that Sun announced were N1 System Manager, a tool that supports the company’s hardware, and an upgraded version of its N1 Service Provisioning System. Loiacono indicated last month that the N1 products would be rolled out soon.

One person who has seen the new system management software is John Groenveld, an associate research engineer at Pennsylvania State University’s Applied Research Laboratory. N1 System Manager allows users “to treat a cluster of systems almost like a mainframe,” he said.

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