Sun to launch next version of Solaris on Nov. 15

OS to work on AMD Opteron chips running in 64-bit mode

Sun Microsystems Inc. will formally launch the next major release of its flagship Solaris operating system at a press event Nov. 15 at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California, company officials confirmed Friday. The launch will be part of Sun's quarterly Network Computing product announcement, which is expected to include new product offerings from a variety of Sun's product groups.

Already available in an "Early Access" beta version, Solaris 10 will have a number of major new features, including a new error detection system, a highly scalable file system called ZFS, and a diagnostic tool known as DTrace. The new version of Sun's Unix operating system will also include significant performance enhancements such as a new TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) stack and improved multithreading capabilities.

One of the most interesting features of Solaris 10 is that it will be the first version of Solaris to support Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron processors while running in 64-bit mode, said Dennis Clarke, director of Blastwave.org, a company in Cobourg, Ontario, that develops open source software for Solaris. 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, he said.

"It will be the big leap for enterprise-class Solaris users in that they will now have far greater performance then they've been able to achieve previously on low-cost architectures, and they're going to be able to do it on a POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface) Unix," he said.

Another new feature will be N1 Grid Containers, which will allow customers to split Solaris into as many as 4,000 independent computing environments, known as containers. Applications can be run in these environments to improve security and performance, according to Sun.

The Solaris 10 launch comes as Sun is increasingly promoting Solaris as an alternative to Linux on processors that use Intel Corp.'s x86 instruction set. Sun executives have admitted the company misjudged the appeal of inexpensive x86 systems as an alternative to its UltraSparc-based systems, and over the last year Sun has taken a number of steps to strengthen Solaris' position as an operating system for x86 servers.

In November 2003, the Santa Clara, California, computer maker 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 Inc. and IBM Corp. Sun has also taken steps to increase the number of applications that support Solaris x86.

"We only have one major ISV (independent software vendor) who's not committed to Solaris on the x86 platform, and that's IBM," said Larry Singer, vice president of Sun's global information systems strategy office.

Sun is also planning to release a version of Solaris under an open source software license by the end of this year, something that could create an opportunity for other companies to sell Solaris on new hardware platforms such as Intel's Itanium 2 processor and IBM's Power5 chip, Singer said. "If you could figure out how to do it, that would be an opportunity," he said.

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

With the Nov. 15 launch, Sun will have to strike a careful balance in presenting Solaris as a viable choice for both its UltraSparc and x86 hardware, said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research in Hayward, California. "Sun has typically shot themselves in the foot in the past when they've made moves outside of the 'Sparc Solaris uber alles' approach to the market," he said. "They have 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."

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