Solaris 9 to boost clustering

An upgrade to Sun Microsystems Inc.’s enterprise server clustering technology is set to arrive next week alongside the company’s much-anticipated new Solaris 9 operating environment.

Backwards-compatible to Solaris 8, Sun Cluster 3.0 will offer features such as improved ease of management, enhanced dynamic configuration, and support for Oracle9i RAC (Real Application Clusters), according to Jim Sangster, the group manager for Sun’s cluster product line, in Palo Alto, Calif.

Commonplace in scientific and academic computer networks, clustered servers that can act as single or multiple system images are being popularized by the enterprise for their ability to both reduce downtime and afford necessary planned downtime, explained Donna Scott, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. But clustering adds complexity, so Sun has worked to simplify the management of Sun Cluster 3.0 while fine-tuning the software to perform optimally with popular business applications such as Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, she said.

Sun Cluster 3.0 is the first version of the product to utilize Sun’s RSM (remote shared memory technology), a plus when running Oracle9i RAC, Sangster said.

“Sun Cluster 3.0 is the release that is ready with our enhanced communications and interconnect technology to take the most advantage of a RAC deployment,” said Sangster, who added that RSM “takes advantage of very high-bandwidth, low-latency interconnects which tie the cluster together.”

Using a technique dubbed PSM (Prioritized Service Management), users of Sun Cluster 3.0 can better manage and allocate compute resources within a cluster being used by more than one department or running more than one critical application, Sangster said.

“By prioritizing the different cluster modules we can actually bring down the less critical components in an SAP environment in favour of the more critical ones,” Sangster said.

Improved dynamic configuration technology in Sun Cluster 3.0 now allows users to make a wider range of system modifications, such as processor and application partitioning, remotely from any secure browser.

Using Sun Cluster 3.0, components such as processors and memory can also be replaced on the fly, Sangster said.

“We can actually replace components, add components, remove components, or change components while the cluster and the application and the system is all up and running,” Sangster said. The hot-swap tools within Sun Cluster 3.0 work for both Sun’s mid-range 3800 and 6800 Sun Fire servers as well as the company’s high-end Sun Fire 12000 and 15000, Sangster added.

Capable of supporting eight clustered server nodes of 106 processors each, Sun Cluster 3.0 offers a rolling upgrade feature that lets users upgrade from earlier versions of Sun Cluster in an incremental fashion across the cluster without having to bring the cluster down, Sangster explained.

Gartner’s Scott said that of all the new features available with Sun Cluster 3.0, the product’s optimization to Oracle9i RAC stands out as the most significant.

“The big issue here is the support of Oracle9i RAC. As 9i starts to become more mainstream, Sun Cluster now supports it. Sun has a fair number of customers running Sun Cluster 2.0 and Oracle8i, so customers that want to move on to RAC want to make sure that it’s supported. If customers want to upgrade to Sun Cluster 3.0 and they want to upgrade Oracle at the same time, Sun has to support all of it,” she said.

Of the ease of use features in Sun Cluster 3.0, Scott said “things that Sun has done with Sun Cluster 3.0 over Sun Cluster 2.0 make it a whole lot more manageable, and when you make it more manageable, you reduce the potential of operator error brining down the cluster.”

In the still fledgling market for enterprise server clusters, Sun competes with vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which Sangster said sported different but fundamentally similar technologies.