Curtain rises on Solaris 10

Calling it "the biggest thing we've done" in nearly a decade, Sun Microsystems' chairman and chief executive Scott McNealy...

Calling it "the biggest thing we've done" in nearly a decade, Sun Microsystems' chairman and chief executive Scott McNealy yesterday officially launched the Solaris 10 operating system.

"This is a watershed event for them," said IDC analyst Jean Bozman. "This is the one that recognises how important the volume server portion of the market has become," she said, referring to low-cost servers that have been taking market share away from Unix operating systems.

But Sun isn't retreating from its UltraSparc, Risc-based chips. McNealy, holding a chip on stage, dismissed critics who said, "Give it up, it's all going to commodity x86 systems," and pointed to the 32-thread processor, codenamed Niagara. "This little baby is going to put some more dough in the bank for us," he said.

Long-time Sun shops like the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and FedEx have been testing the new operating system and they are pleased with what it has delivered so far.

FedEx technical director Don Fike said that prior to Solaris 10 interest in Sun had been "dwindling” but since then had soared. According to Fike, because of Solaris 10 FedEx’s use of Sun systems, which run many of its mission-critical systems, would at least stay the same and might even expand.

The major features of Solaris 10 have been available for some time. Over the past 18 months, Sun has gradually released large parts of the OS, and the full version is available to users who belong to Sun’s Express programme.

Pricing ranges from free use of Solaris 10 for customers who forgo service and support, to a subscription plan with variable rates depending on the level of service and support. John Loiacono, executive vice-president of Sun’s software group said the company would continue to offer its per-CPU OS pricing for customers who wanted to capitalise their assets upfront.

The new pricing will take effect at the end of January, when Solaris 10 is made generally available internationally as well as in the US.

Sun plans to make Solaris open source, and company officials say there is nothing preventing release of the source code, despite its use of some third-party code.

"Because its open source, you can't get locked in," said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and chief operating officer. Details about how the open source licensing or governance model will work remain to be worked out.

Sun also plans to indemnify customers. "When you buy software, you should have a company with cash and an intellectual property portfolio that can protect you," said McNealy.

Solaris 10 is a major reworking of the operating system. Key improvements include a faster networking technology built into the TCP/IP stack. According to Fike, those networking improvements have "dramatically improved” the performance of network-intensive applications at FedEx.

He singled out for special praise dynamic tracing, which allows users to examine the interaction of an application with the operating system. Fike said he had been able to identify performance problems within 15 minutes in live code with the tool - regardless of which third-party application was running.

Philadephia Stock Exchange has also been testing Solaris 10, and officials said the networking stack performance improvements, coupled with the application optimisation with DTrace, were so marked that they expect to reduce the amount of Sun hardware they need and cut maintenance costs.

Exchange officials said one trading application running on a 12-processor Sun Fire 6800 UltraSparc server was tested on a four-processor Sun Fire 4800 on Solaris 10 and performed better on the four-way than the 12-way system.

The stock exchange is putting a lot more demand on its systems with a new electronic trading system. Thomas Wittman, senior vice-president of trading system development, said that without the performance gain of Solaris 10 the exchange faced the prospect of buying additional Sun machines or "taking a look at something else, whatever that something else might be”.

In recent years Sun has been hit by a shift to low-cost Intel-based servers running Linux and Windows. Company officials said they were late to see the shift but argued that the alliance with AMD, reached a year ago, and expanded x86 offerings were proof that they had shifted to the new market realities.

While Solaris 10 is in competition with other Unix operating systems from IBM and Hewlett-Packard, Sun is also clearly targeting Linux enterprise suppliers.

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

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