Solaris 10 heads for launch pad

Sun Microsystems says advanced partitioning on x86 processors will be one of the compelling features in the next version of its flagship operating system

Sun Microsystems has given a sneak peek into the next version of its Unix operating system, Solaris 10, which will include a partitioning technology that the company says is a big improvement over the logical partitions used on mainframes.

Sun touted the hundreds of new Solaris features at its quarterly product launch last week, which also included the launch of UltraSparc IV and Opteron servers. Besides the N1 Grid Containers partitioning system, Sun gave details of the DTrace dynamic tracing tool and security and self-healing features.

Grid Containers, previously referred to as "zones", is part of Sun's answer to utility computing -- the vision of computing power that can be dynamically provisioned to whatever task is at hand within a corporation, rather than the current model where departments have "silos" of dedicated machines. Unlike logical partitions, which run many instances of a server on the same machine, containers allow a single instance of an operating system to run multiple discrete computing environments.

One advantage, said Sun, is that users need only one instance of Solaris to support up to 4,000 containers, cutting down on licensing fees. At the same time containers will offer the benefits of logical partitions, including better security and performance and the ability to dynamically allocate bandwith and memory, with faults isolated within the container, Sun said.

Sun's midrange and high-end servers can already run several instances of Solaris on one system through hardware partitioning.

There is one major difference between Sun's strategy with partitions and that of its rivals, according to Sun. Solaris' partitioning capabilities work not only on Sun servers using the company's own UltraSparc processors, but also on servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon or AMD's Opteron, he said.

The Grid Containers technology could be a compelling reason for customers to embrace Solaris on x86 processors, because it brings a useful but hard-to-get feature to Intel servers. The x86 version of Solaris has languished within Sun and the combination is outsold by Linux, even in Sun's product line.

IBM and HP offer partitioning on Intel servers today through use of VMware software, which can run Linux or Microsoft Windows in separate partitions. Microsoft is working on partitioning technology obtained through its acquisition of Connectix.

Security and stability
Adding to the security benefits of partitioning will be Solaris Privileges, which offers better control over how applications and administrators access system resources such as memory and hardware devices; this will help limit damage when it occurs, Sun said.

For correcting faults, the operating system will include DTrace, which uses 30,000 probes scattered throughout the software to quickly determine the cause of a performance problem, Sun said. Predictive Self Healing will monitor components such as memory and with the aim of stopping faults before they happen.

Solaris 10 is set for launch in the third quarter, on Sun's own UltraSparc IV, Intel x86 and Opteron processors, but users can get a taste of the new technologies via Sun's Software Express for Solaris subscription service starting this month. The programme is designed to allow organisations to keep up to speed on new Sun technologies, while encouraging upgrades. Sun said over half its installed base is still using Solaris 8.

The company said it will announce pricing when Solaris 10 launches.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.