In the SSL/CW list of top IT skills, Solaris is number 21.
What is it?
Solaris is the best-selling implementation of Unix and holds about one third of the market. However, its share of the server business is threatened by Linux which, after initial hostility, Sun now also supports.
Solaris 9, released last year, is both an upgrade of the operating system and an attempt to challenge Linux on its own ground, with a lot of bundled software tools and add-ons, which include Sun's own products and other freeware and open source products. Sun has also started to open up its code base to the user community.
Solaris 9 has new features that make it easier to administer, but it still requires skill and experience.
Where did it originate?
Sun was founded in 1982. Solaris gradually took over from the proprietary Sun OS at the beginning of the 1990s.
What is it for?
Solaris is available from single-user and workgroup versions up to datacentre-strength implementations capable of supporting hundreds of CPUs in "Sunplex" clusters. It includes the iPlanet directory server, Samba for integration with Windows networks, the KDE and Gnome open source desktops, Staroffice, Star Suite and a utility called Bash which can run most Linux shell scripts.
What makes it special?
Solaris was designed from the outset for scalable, multi-user and multi-platform network computing, in contrast to Windows, which has its origins in personal computing and local area networks.
It is built around a small kernel which provides core operating system features. These are kept to the minimum to reduce the possibility of system crashes. The rest of the operating system functionality is modular.
How difficult is it to master?
Solaris is relatively straightforward if you have a Unix background. Solaris 9 includes a lot of management tools which enable less experienced administrators to install and configure it, but the good news for those seeking a career as a Solaris administrator is that it is still harder to work with than other versions of Unix.
What systems does it run on?
Sun's Sparc (Scalable Processor Architecture) and Intel-based systems. Sun is challenging Microsoft aggressively for the business of Intel users, and although the numbers are growing, they are still minuscule compared with Windows.
Where is it used?
Sparc and Solaris is the combination chosen by the majority of internet service providers. It is also widely used in research and education and in the commercial and public sectors, with customers including BT and Whitehall.
What is coming up?
Sun is moving some of the features of the high-security Trusted version of Solaris to the general user versions.
You can download a free evaluation copy of the Intel version of Solaris 9, plus Sun's Java Enterprise System. There are three levels of certification for Solaris administrators, the highest (and best paid) is a certified security administrator.
You will need six to 12 months' experience and have to pass the required exams.
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Rates of pay
Solaris systems administrators can look for a salary of £25,000 to £35,000, rising to about £60,000 for operations managers. Higher rates are available in banking or for those with financial sector experience.