Sun launches Solaris 9, touts integrated features

Sun Microsystems Inc. rolled out the latest upgrade to its Solaris operating system Wednesday, announcing a plan to add key middleware and management components that broaden the capabilities of its Unix platform.

At a press event at Sun’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif., Sun executives positioned Solaris 9 as the biggest upgrade in a decade. Bundling Sun’s application server and directory server with Solaris 9 transforms the operating system into a complete platform for deploying Java applications and Web services, according to Ed Zander, Sun’s president and chief operating officer.

“I don’t believe Solaris 9 is an operating system any more,” he said. “This is not an operating system announcement, it’s a new class of product.”

Sun executives here touted more than 300 new product features intended to boost the performance of applications and improve on the security, partitioning and management features in its flagship OS. Besides the middleware products, from its Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) family, Solaris 9 adds what the company called an “enterprise class” firewall at no charge with each copy of Solaris 9, as well as new provisioning and change management software.

The added middleware components should help customers cut the cost and the time it takes to deploy applications because in many cases they’ll no longer need to shop around for the products individually, Sun officials said.

Analysts said the move could help Sun boost its position in the enterprise software market, but at the cost of potential conflict with software partners such as BEA Systems Inc. and Veritas Software Corp., whose products overlap with some of the new capabilities introduced with Solaris 9.

“I think Sun is a bit torn with doing what they feel is the right thing for Sun and its customers from a logical perspective, and, on the other hand, not alienating its software partners,” echoed Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., based in Nashua, N.H.

Zander said Solaris remains an “open platform” on which customers can deploy software from whichever vendor they choose. He argued that bundling a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) application server will encourage developers to write more Java applications, expanding the market for Java products as a whole.

Sun’s strategy mimics that of IBM Corp., which offers customers who buy its servers steep discounts on IBM software products, analysts said.

“It’s an escalation of the stakes,” said Paul Krieg, a software analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. based in Reston, Va. “IBM has been very successful in taking so much of a customer’s total budget for hardware and software that other firms are trying to emulate them.”

Users who had been hoping for a version of Solaris 9 for Intel-based servers were out of luck. A version for Intel systems is “done and sitting on a shelf,” but Sun won’t release it because supporting the product is not economically viable, said Anil Gadre, vice-president for Solaris software at Sun.

If server vendors such as Dell Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. show enough interest in Solaris 9 for Intel, Sun will ship the product, Zander said. “We just want some demand for it, and if the Intel community is that upset about it” they should call Intel server makers and pressure them to sell it, he said.

Solaris 9 is available immediately with the Sun ONE Directory Server fully integrated, including a license for as many as 200,000 named users. Integration of the Sun ONE Application Server 7, Platform Edition, is slated for the end of calendar 2002, the company said.

The directory product already was offered with Solaris 8, but came on a separate CD. With Solaris 9, the directory product is “baked deep into the kernel, so when you boot up it’s just there,” Gadre said. As a result, read operations for the directory occur five times faster than with Solaris 8, he said.

Customers who are on one of Sun’s maintenance programs can upgrade to Solaris 9 free of charge. For others, Sun has reduced the number of processors in a system that are covered under its free download program. In the past, users could download Solaris for free for use on servers with up to eight processors, said Jim Lee, Sun’s director for worldwide product sales and marketing.

“With Solaris 9 it will be a single-processor license only for the free download,” he said. “It’s primarily because we want it to be a developer license rather than a production license, and so a lot of developers will be working on a single processor machine.”

While the decision to bundle its infrastructure software may have been controversial, long-time users who cherish the operating system will likely have less argument with other new features. Sun worked for two years to improve ways administrators can divvy up resources such as processor power to groups of users, improve security with support for the latest protocols and speed the software’s overall performance.

Customers typically take their time upgrading to a new server OS, but when they do they will find features that make it easier to install, reboot, run and secure the product. Solaris users will now be able to upgrade both their root partition and a copy of the partition at the same time, instead of separately as is currently required, which could help save time and avoid potential user errors. Sun also improved its server reboot tools so that skipping lengthy system checks after a crash by enabling logging doesn’t compromise the performance of processing transactions, for example, as was the case with Solaris 8, said Bill Moffitt, product line manager for Solaris.

“When you have logging enabled, (the OS) does not have to do a system check, which can take forever if a machine crashes,” Moffitt said. “This caused some other actions to take a performance hit in the past, but now people don’t have to make a trade-off.”

Administrators will also find built-in resource management tools that let them set limits on the CPU (central processing unit), memory, bandwidth and storage resources that can be accessed by a particular group of workers or applications. Additionally, Sun will introduce Solaris Containers with the new OS, which divide applications into separate compartments in a bid to ensure that a software crash or virus is isolated.

Several beta testers expressed satisfaction with Solaris 9, calling it one of the easiest upgrades to install. Sun has also made it easier to keep track of which version of an application and associated patches are running on a server.

“From my own viewpoint, Sun has been ahead of the competition in most management areas and has probably increased its lead with this product,” said Eric Greenwade, a science fellow at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Another user said Sun has made strides toward matching Veritas on some key software functions, but still has room to improve.

“The Sun folks took a real big step in the right direction, but there is a way to go,” said Thomas Nau, director of the University of Ulm Computer Center in Germany. “They are pushing this and there is conviction at Sun that they need to take more steps.”

Another improvement is a central software registry for checking to see what versions of applications and associated patches are running on a server. “You can tell what software has written into that registry and the revisions and patches,” Moffitt said. “You could do it in 8, but you had to look at individual packages.”

(John Ribeiro in Bangalore, India, contributed to this report.)