Sun talks up newest version of its OS

While Microsoft Corp. preaches the reliability and scalability of its upcoming Windows 2000 operating system, Sun Microsystems Inc. has been busy touting the advantages of the next release of its Unix OS – Solaris 8.

Both Solaris 8 and Windows 2000 are scheduled to become generally available in February of next year. Microsoft has specified Feb. 17 as the exact date for the official release of Windows 2000, formerly code named NT 5. Sun has yet to commit to an exact date in February, to leave the company “some wriggle room,” said Jeff Bernard, Sun’s director of marketing for Solaris Software, based in Burlington, Mass.

Bernard pronounced himself “stunned” by the estimate Microsoft, Unisys Corp. and EMC Corp. recently gave at Comdex, that data centres running Windows 2000 will cost one-fifth to one-third of the price of a Unix-based system and will also offer customers significant TCO savings over Unix.

“Where did they get that number?” Bernard asked. “Building our three-tier model, you can generate TCO immediately.”

Talking up what Sun still sees as Unix’s advantages over high-end Windows, Bernard stressed Solaris’ ability to “build support for any known device,” along with OS manageability, availability, scalability, security and universality. On the latter point, he said, “Once you’re on the ‘Net, you can’t assume what is on the other end of wire. There is no such thing as a vendor standard, only open standard.”

Bernard said that Solaris 8 shouldn’t be considered as a way of “mainframing the OS,” but added that Sun has put in features that the classic data centre customer would want. “Solaris will complement the mainframe to (create) the data,” he said.

However, the OS is also aimed at the likes of application service providers who are keen to bring mainframe-like rigor for design architecture into their systems, Bernard added.

“We’ve really got availability nailed (with Solaris 8) and have completely removed scalability issues,” Bernard said. The OS can run on up to 256 CPUs and supports the IPv6 standard. “IPv6 can bring China on-line because they’re running out of IP addresses,” he said. Solaris 8 will also be able to run IPv4 at the same time as IPv6, he added.

Some of the new features in Solaris 8 include Live Update, a way to keep the old OS intact as a user tries out the new operating system.

In the past, in moving to a new version of the operating system, users would need to uninstall the old OS, install the new one and then spend time testing it out, Bernard said. If they didn’t want to move to the new OS and wanted to move back to the old system, they would’ve lost all their old settings and would have to reinstall the previous OS all over again. With Live Update, users can partition part of the operating system and install the new OS while retaining the log files of the old OS on their system. They can then reboot to try the new software or reboot the system again to return to their original OS.

Dynamic reconfiguration is a feature Solaris has had for some time, enabling users to take a device off-line, then allocate resources to it and bring it back online. The new addition to the technology in Solaris 8 is support for SCSI devices, Bernard said.

Reconfiguration Manager allows users to set policies for how their OS should behave if something goes wrong with the system, he said. “You can script exactly how you want the system to behave when things go wrong.”

Should there be a need to patch the OS kernel when the machine is running, Sun’s enterprise server team will now be able to do that via “hot patching,” Bernard said.

Not all of the features he discussed will be available in the February release of Solaris 8; some will come out with the quarterly updates of the OS, he explained. “It’s like passengers for a train: Not all of them get onboard at the same time.”

Other features for Solaris 8 include job, project and accounting support, a mainframe concept of tracking processes to do the proper billing and accounting for different departments in a company, he said.

Role-based access control will enable companies to allocate the priority to modify pieces of the OS to different people by name and by role.

Solaris Resource Manager for load balancing and Solaris Bandwidth Manager for handling bandwidth issues are currently separate products, but are likely to be co-packaged as one entity in the future. Sun is eventually likely to make Solaris an open-source product, Bernard said.

“The suggestion is that open source would be a good thing for Solaris,” he said. “However, there are trade-offs to the open-source model in terms of intellectual property…and the stability, predictability and support needed in a production environment.”

Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont., is at 1-800-361-9708