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- Enhanced performance and security
- predictive self-healing
- x86 platform support
- built-in virtualisation (Solaris Containers)
- DTrace debugging tool
- Linux compatibility
- Compatibility issues on x86 platforms
- Linux compatibility, ZFS file system and other promised features not yet available
For Sun customers, upgrading to Solaris 10 is very much a 'no-brainer', and for several very good reasons. To start with, it's faster than any previous Solaris implementation, with a slick new IP stack just one of many performance enhancements. Plus it’s a lot more secure, featuring a new integrated cryptographic framework based on the Trusted Solaris product. The Role Based Access Control (RBAC) technology, introduced a couple of releases back, has also been extended to give fine-grained control over both users and processes, while applications and services can now be isolated within their own virtual execution space using Solaris Containers (formerly N1 Grid Containers).
There are several notable advances on the availability front too, including 'predictive self healing', which enables the OS to identify and automatically recover from a range of hardware and software faults. And for developers there’s a new integrated debugging tool called DTrace that lets programmers and system administrators see exactly what’s going on while applications are executing. Solaris 10 also sees the official release of JDS 3.0, Sun’s Gnome-based Java Desktop System, and the resurrection of support for the x86 platform as well as Sun’s own UltraSPARC processors. Moreover, Sun has opted to make Solaris 10 available for free download and, with claims to be able to run Linux applications natively on the new OS, is clearly making a play for the corporate open source market. Unfortunately it’s at this point that the Solaris proposition starts to lose some of it lustre. Yes, you can download and install it just like Red Hat or SuSE Linux, but there the similarities end, making Solaris 10 far less of an obvious choice for companies looking for a Linux alternative.
Installation & setup
To begin with, it’s important to understand that you’re still dealing with a proprietary OS here. Sure, you can download and run it for free (if you’ve the time and bandwidth to download all four CD-ROM images!), but a full open source release is unlikely to appear for some time. And although Sun is keen to stress support for the whole gamut of x86 platforms, including the latest 64-bit AMD and Intel processors, the lack of all those open source developers churning out code means that hardware compatibility isn’t as universal as it is with most Linux distributions. We tried installing the software on a number of different systems -- from older Pentium III-based PCs to the latest and greatest Xeon server hardware -- and experienced lots of basic compatibility problems. These ranged from a clash between the install program and the CD-ROM drive to -- where we could get that to work -- a failure to recognise the network or storage adapters being used. We also experienced crashes when using USB devices and even had problems installing Solaris 10 in a virtual machine environment. However, we did eventually get it to work with the latest VMware Workstation 5 release which provides specific (if unsupported) Solaris support.
The famed Linux compatibility, based on a technology called Janus, doesn’t quite live up to expectation either. In its favour, Janus provides compatibility at the kernel level, which allows it to take full advantage of all the new features -- including container virtualisation. It also allows Linux applications to run natively with minimal performance overheads. Unfortunately the first release is limited to handling 32-bit applications, with compatibility only guaranteed for code written for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3. Worse still, Janus isn’t yet included as standard in the Solaris download, and other features slated for inclusion have also been left out of the first production release. Most notable of the latter is the Zettabyte File System (ZFS), which is designed to simplify storage management in large enterprises. On the plus side, the Sun software now doesn’t cost anything and security updates are also free to download. You can buy support for all platforms direct from Sun at a cost that compares well with Red Hat and other enterprise Linux distributions, and there's plenty of good documentation to be had, both embedded in the package and on Sun's Web site. Sun has gone further down the Linux route and bundled Apache, Tomcat, MySQL and other applications with its OS as well as StarOffice 7 for desktop deployment.
Despite all this, however, Solaris 10 has to be viewed as a proprietary product best implemented on Sun hardware, be it UltraSPARC or one of the AMD Opteron-based x86 boxes. Strides have been made towards embracing the Linux model, and an open source implementation is promised. But it’s not here yet, and Sun has a long way to go before it can claim to provide the same wide platform support that's available from the top Linux vendors. So if you’re a Sun customer, then go for it. Otherwise stick with Linux until the bugs have been ironed out and it does what it says on the tin.