Sun launches Solaris 10

Sun Microsystems launched the much-anticipated new version of its Solaris operating system this week, and announced an overhauled pricing model designed to compete with Linux.

Speaking at Sun's quarterly Network Computing event, held on Monday at San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation, Sun CEO and chairman Scott McNealy called Solaris 10 'the biggest thing we done in the past nine years--pretty much since our first Sparc hardware launch.'

Sun spent more than $500 million of the company's $1.9 billion R&D investment on the new OS, which comes with 600 new features, and promises to improve system performance by up to 30 percent. 'Our [R&D investment] strategy has paid off big time,' McNealy said, 'and over 23 years, there are not many companies who have been able to put as much cash in the piggybank as we have.' McNealy was referring to Sun's end-of-fiscal-quarter bank balance of $7.4 billion.

Sun plans to make Solaris 10 available for free download by the end of January, with versions available for Sparc-, Intel-, and AMD-based systems. Sun will make money on Solaris through support and maintenance deals, the company says.

Sun's announcement was seen as the surest sign yet that the Santa Clara, CA-based systems company is moving toward a business model emphasizing software, subscription-based pricing, and services, rather than hardware with software and services thrown in.

'With Solaris 10, we are getting back to our core base, the developer base and the community around the operating system and the applications built on top of it,' McNealy told a standing-room-only crowd gathered in the Tech's I-Max theater.

Perhaps more significant is Sun's plan to release the source code of Solaris under an open-source license, which was seen as an aggressive move to regain market share lost to Linux distros, such as Red Hat and Novell.

'Because it's open source, you can't get locked in,' Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and COO said during a post-launch press conference. Specifics about the open source licensing and governance model are yet to be worked our, Schwartz said.

Market watchers at Gartner saw Linux use grow in the second quarter from 6.6 percent to 9.5 percent, while UNIX market share shrank from 38 to 33.8 percent. (Solaris is based on UNIX.) Windows gained ground during that period, growing slightly from 33 percent to 34.4, according to Gartner.

Analyst Mark Stahlman of Caris & Co. called the unveiling of Solaris 10 'easily the most important software introduction by the company in 10-plus years.' In a recently published research note, he predicted that Sun will attract a large contingent of open software advocates with this approach and 'tap into a significant pool of talent and resources.'

Yankee senior analyst Dana Gardner, who attended to launch event, was impressed with Solaris 10 and Sun's strategy. 'Although I think Sun missed a couple of clicks historically, they’re back on track right now,' Gardner said. 'They missed app servers, and they missed IDEs, but they’re in tune with the data center optimization phase we are in currently. There are a limited number of platforms, and Sun is still in the top tier. If what they said is true about Solaris 10, they could stay there.'

Sun is billing Solaris 10 as an OS 'designed for datacenter workloads.' The company claims that it is the fastest operating system ever released by Sun, more than 40 percent faster than Solaris 9 in web server performance on both SPARC and x86-based hardware.

Many of Solaris 10's new features have been available to some Sun customers for more than a year. Sun has been releasing large parts of the new OS gradually over the past 18 months. The full version has been available for some time to customers who belong to Sun’s Express program.

Among the most notable new features of the OS is Solaris Containers, a technology designed to customers to partition a single copy of Solaris into more than 8,000 'containers,' each of which can be separated from the others with firewalls.

A new diagnostic tool called DTrace turned heads at the launch event. Designed to identify application bottlenecks, DTrace automatically ferrets out bottlenecks and elusive bugs, and can diagnose them in milliseconds and minutes, instead of hours or days, said John Loiacono, Sun's senior vice president of software. Some customers who have been testing Solaris 10 and DTrace have seen performance increases of as much as 500 percent when using the technology, he added.

Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst with the Robert Frances Group, who attended the launch, was particularly impressed with DTrace, which she saw as a competitive differentiator. 'It's a significant enhancement,' she said. 'And it's something you can’t do with the Linux trace toolkit.'

The list of new Solaris 10 features also includes, among others:

- Process Rights, which leverages technology from the Trusted Solaris operating system used for U.S. government secure communications, to provide a more granular privilege use model;

- Predictive Self Healing technology that allows the OS to automatically diagnose, isolate, and recover from many hardware and application faults;

- Linux Application Environment (previously code named Project Janus), which makes Solaris 10 the only OS to run Solaris and native Linux binaries side-by-side with no modifications;

- The ZFS file system, which Sun says provides 16 billion times more capacity than current 64-bit file systems.

DISCUSSION POINT: Do you think Sun is on the right track with Solaris 10? Post your comments on the discussion board below.


About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].

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