“When I first came to Sun Microsystems in 1996, I came because I wanted to do OS development,” says Solaris developer Bryan Cantrill, adding that at that time most other OS vendors had already given up the race to Microsoft. “There was only one vendor whose Windows NT strategy was to beat NT, and that was Sun.”
As luck would have it, that strategy worked. Solaris emerged from the Unix wars victorious and gave Microsoft a beating in the server market to boot, only to be eclipsed by a dark horse contender from the world of open source. Today the Linux buzz continues unabated, but Sun plans to keep innovating.
“We have always believed that you can innovate in the operating system uniquely,” Cantrill says.
Although Sun’s latest enhancements might not steal the limelight from Linux in the mainstream press, Solaris arguably remains the only source of innovation in the enterprise Unix market.
“When you look at Solaris 10, if you were to characterize the innovations that are there, none of them are really changing the programming model for applications,” says Solaris developer Michael Shapiro. Instead, “the operating system is empowering people to do something with the software that they already had or the ideas that they already had of how to solve problems.”
Take DTrace, for example, the dynamic tracing framework that ships with Solaris 10. With it, administrators have unprecedented views into the inner workings of software, allowing them to diagnose problems, not through isolated test scenarios, but in the production environment. That capability will be vital as the trend toward complex, componentized software environments continues, Cantrill says.
Another new feature, Predictive Self-Healing, fundamentally changes the way a system reports and responds to error conditions. “If you had a piece of DRAM memory that went bad, we would be able to isolate that problem, ... figure out what process was using that memory, kill that process, restart the service, ... and then also offline that chunk of memory from being used, and keep the system running,” Shapiro says.
Linux may be catching up to where Solaris was years ago, but ideas and technologies such as these prove the Solaris engineers are still an enclave of OS innovation.