x86 joins Ultrasparc for Solaris 10 launch

The next major release of Sun's flagship Solaris operating system will formally appear on 15 November.

The next major release of Sun's flagship Solaris operating system will formally appear on 15 November.

Already available in an early access beta, Solaris 10 will incorporate a new error detection system, a highly scalable file system called ZFS, and the DTrace diagnostic tool. Performance enhancements to the Unix operating system include a new TCP/IP stack and improved multi-threading.

Dennis Clarke, director of Solaris open-source software developer Blastwave, said version 10 of Solaris would be the first to support AMD's Opteron processors while running in 64-bit mode. Current versions of Solaris for x86 process data in smaller, 32-bit chunks, which means they do not perform as well as Solaris 10 in certain types of applications.

"It will be a big leap for enterprise-class Solaris users in that they will now have far greater performance than they've been able to achieve previously on low-cost architectures, and they're going to be able to do it on a Posix Unix," said Clarke.

Another new feature will be N1 grid containers, which can split Solaris into as many as 4,000 independent computing environments, known as containers. Sun says applications can be run in these environments to improve security and performance.

The Solaris 10 launch comes as Sun promotes the operating system as an alternative to Linux on processors that use Intel's x86 instruction set. Sun has admitted it misjudged the appeal of inexpensive x86 systems as an alternative to its UltraSparc systems, and has taken a number of steps in the last 12 months to strengthen Solaris as an operating system for x86 servers.

Last year Sun announced a new line of workstations and servers based on AMD's x86-compatible Opteron processor.  It has also certified Solaris x86 to run on a wide range of other hardware, including systems made by competitors such as Dell and IBM, and increased the number of applications that support Solaris x86.

"We only have one major independent software vendor who's not committed to Solaris on the x86 platform, and that's IBM," said Sun vice-president Larry Singer.

Singer said Sun was planning to release an open-source version of Solaris by the end of this year, allowing other companies to sell Solaris on new hardware platforms such as Intel's Itanium 2 and IBM's Power5.

"The obvious and logical thing to do would be to port the open Solaris kernel to other 64-bit architectures," said Clarke. "There's no reason to not do it."

Analyst Charles King said Sun had to strike a careful balance in presenting Solaris as a viable choice for both its UltraSparc and x86 hardware. "Sun has typically shot itself in the foot in the past when it's made moves outside the 'Sparc Solaris uber alles' approach to the market. It's always tended to say, 'Yeah, we offer this other stuff, but if you really want to get the good stuff, you've got to buy Sparc Solaris."

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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