Solaris 8 keeps Web apps on-line

Keeping your Internet services running reliably may be the essence of your company’s business. Your revenues, partnerships and employees may depend on your ability to stay on-line. Furthermore, the rapid growth of Internet business has sparked a parallel requirement for infrastructure that can cope with the new economy’s demands.

In spite of its popularity and recent upgrade, Microsoft’s Windows has limitations in its reliability and scalability. For many, the leading Internet operating system is Sun Microsystems’ Solaris, now available in Version 8 for both Sparc and Intel hardware. (I tested the Sparc version.) Version 8’s highlights are greater availability and security that beat what Windows can offer. If you had doubts before, you should now be convinced that the network-computing model is real and that Solaris is an operating system that is in the right position to support the new economy.

Although Solaris can emulate a Windows NT Server and even allow the administrator to use native tools for adds, moves and changes, Solaris will never surpass Windows NT in the workgroup as long as the clients are running Windows. But for serving Web applications – and with Oracle, for example, as a data store – Solaris is a flexible, powerful platform for e-business.

Solaris also benefits from the fact that Internet computing is now less about running stand-alone applications on an increasingly powerful desktop and more about participating in a multi-user environment.

Solaris is a true multi-user operating system ideally suited for the Internet. Keep Windows for the desktop and workgroup, but beyond that you should seriously consider Solaris to handle everything from the Web server to the data centre. As Windows defines the desktop-workgroup model, Solaris defines the network-computing model.

Always available

The biggest efforts for Solaris 8 have been to increase availability. Perhaps the most interesting and useful feature is what they call Dynamic Reconfiguration. As the name implies, you can add or subtract physical resources such as memory, processor cards, and I/O devices while the server is running, tell the OS you have done so, and have it gradually make use of the new elements without ever rebooting.

Along these lines, another new feature allows you to create policies that transfer resources from one domain to another while both are running. This is especially helpful if your site gets more traffic at certain hours or if you want to increase capacity for those big, relatively rare events such as backups.

Solaris 8 further increases availability with Live Upgrade. With Live Upgrade you can create a new installation on a clean partition while your Version 2.6 or Version 7 is still running, then reboot to turn on the new OS. This is important not only because it reduces downtime while you build the new server, but also because it allows for a previous working copy of the OS to be retained in case anything goes wrong with the new one or with your applications’ compliance with it.

Sun has also included the capability of patching bad or faulty code while the server is still running. These “hot patches” allow questionable kernel code to be redirected to the patch code without interrupting any applications in operation. By doing so, you can buy yourself valuable time to map out an efficient plan of action to correct the problem while keeping services alive to your customers.

Solaris carries a slew of other improvements. Chief among these are the IPv6 stack, which can run in conjunction with IPv4; IPsec, which prevents spoofing and increases security in VPNs; Mobile IP, which allows a device with a static IP address to roam without losing its connection; and the capability of using smart cards for authentication into the OS and applications.

In short, Sun has done many things to make this very reliable OS more compelling for use with Internet applications. At US$75, Solaris makes a great desktop and includes the acclaimed suite StarOffice 5.1. But you can install that same copy on a midrange machine and, using the included copies of iPlanet’s Web server, directory server, and certificate server along with the included copy of Oracle8i, you can put together a formidable e-commerce server. (The third-party applications require separate licensing fees.)

And if you happen to have a $1 million-Starfire, Sun’s most powerful machine, that copy of Solaris will run a world-class data centre. This scalability is unrivalled by any other OS.

What you get in this package is a Solaris that is better suited to run applications and services that cannot afford to go down. Not only is the OS more stable and reliable than Windows NT, but Solaris 8 has included powerful high-availability features that cannot be touched by Windows 2000. For this reason, Solaris 8 earns its score of Very Good, and I highly recommend that anyone serious about participating in this new economy install and evaluate Solaris 8 for any of their critical services.

Jefferson ( is a former editor for the InfoWorld Test Centre. He has been writing about technology since 1992.

Review box: Solaris 8

Supplier: Sun Microsystems

Cost: US$75 for unlimited machines with eight or fewer CPUs and unlimited users

Platforms: Various Sun or Intel-based systems

Pros: Can upgrade system resources without downtime

Total downtime due to upgrading only as long as reboot

Well-suited to e-commerce solutions

Ships with a slew of top-quality enterprise applications for productivity and Internet-based services

Cons: Requires advanced hardware for advanced features