Sun sets Solaris free

18 Nov 2004

Sun Microsystems has finally launched Solaris 10, the latest version of its Unix operating system, which has been developed at a cost of US$500m, making it Sun’s most important product launch in several years.

Not only does Solaris contain a range of new features that hardened market-watchers admit represents a substantial improvement on Solaris 9 but the software will also be offered free to users from 31 January 2005. The company will instead make its revenue from support contracts and bug-fixing services.

Solaris 10 is a vendor-neutral operating system that is supported on more than 270 different hardware platforms from vendors as diverse as Dell, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, IBM and HP.

Sun claims the system is the fastest operating system it has ever released – more than 40pc faster than Solaris 9 in web server performance on both Sparc and x86 processor platforms.

Brian Jordan, enterprise business manager with Sun Microsystems Ireland, likened Solaris 10 to “the most advanced flight control system you could put into an airplane” incorporating a range of powerful new functions that would, he said, appeal to the enterprise user. These include a tool called ‘containers’, a form of virtualisation technology that allows individual CPUs to be split into a number of small, logically separate PC environments that can be used to run individual applications. In so doing, the level of server utilisation can be driven up from the normal 20-25pc level right up to 80pc, Sun claims. According to Jordan, this means customers can save significant amounts of money because, instead of buying new servers, they can use Solaris 10 to increase their asset utilisation.

Security is another prominent feature of the new system, as Jordan explained: “A lot of enterprises will have experienced computer security concerns in the past couple of years. We have put literally military-grade security into this release: the systems have been taken from Solaris releases for military sites and used in missile-control systems.”

In a thinly veiled jibe aimed at Windows-based server platforms, Jordan added: “Many of our customers find that Solaris systems are virtually free of viruses.”

Another new feature is a new diagnostics tool called D Trace that enables developers or IT administrators to zero in on any performance issues related to any application running on the system. In tests, business applications are running 20-25pc faster on Solaris 10 as a result.

D Trace extends to Linux applications running on Solaris, a fact that Sun is hoping will help persuade Linux enthusiasts to choose Solaris rather than Red Hat Linux or another commercial vendor of the open-source software.

Sun has publicly admitted that it faces a growing competitive threat from Linux, particularly Linux running on low-cost x86-based servers. Sun is intending to face down this threat by way of competitively priced offerings such as Solaris 10 running on AMD Opteron 64-bit processors.

Jordan felt that Linux was a good technology for small and some medium-sized businesses, but only a feature-rich operating system such as Solaris was suitable for deployment in the data centre. It would thus continue to be preferred by telcos, banks and other institutions with serious number-crunching requirements, he maintained. “You won’t find 20 or 40 CPU deployments of Linux in the data centre; with Solaris you will.”

As a gesture intended to underline its own commitment to open source software, Sun also announced that the source code for Solaris 10 is to be released under licence to the open source community by the end of January 2005. Sun, which claims to be the second largest contributor of software to the open source community (after Berkeley University, California), has excellent links with the developer community on the Java side, which has helped make Java a powerful opponent to Microsoft’s .Net web services platform. It has been less open with Solaris, until this new announcement.

In terms of pricing, Sun has yet to announce the cost of service and support contracts for Solaris 10 in the Irish market. However, Jordan estimated that users could expect to pay “a couple of hundred euro” per CPU per annum for Sun’s premium support package, which would include 24×7 cover. Jordan believed that customers were ready for the ‘free-software, paid-for service’ model. “It’s pretty much the way the industry is going,” he noted. “It’s moving towards more of a utility model for selling software.”

Jordan said that Sun would soon begin helping its Irish customers migrate to Solaris 10. These include AIB, Bank of Ireland, Eircom, Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Siochana and the Department of Justice.

He concluded, on a point of local interest, that up to three quarters of Sun Microsystems’ 200 Dublin-based workforce were involved at some point in the development of the new operating system. So, Sun’s corporate masters in Silicon Valley won’t be the only ones avidly watching the progress of Solaris 10; quite a few employees at East Point Business Park will be too.

By Brian Skelly