New Solaris Faces Tough Competition: Earlier Versions

While Sun Microsystems' Solaris 9 operating system boasts an impressive list of new features, some analysts and users say shops satisfied with their older Solaris platforms may not feel compelled to upgrade.
With the rollout of Solaris 9, Sun Microsystems has integrated a bevy of management, processing and middleware features to try to turn its flagship operating system into a sophisticated back-end and middleware environment.

And since Sun didn't focus on one or two major new features in this latest Solaris release, industry analysts say most IT shops should be able to find what they're looking for in the 300 new feature additions. The integration of so many new capabilities is designed to make Solaris a more complete and sophisticated platform, boosting application performance, partitioning and management.

"This is all about breadth of enhancements," says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, a research and consulting firm based in Nashua, N.H. "With 300 new features -- even though some are pretty minor -- they're hitting a lot of different areas. It's not that every single administrator is going to benefit from all these features. Certain changes will be important to probably every [IT] shop."

In this release, Sun is adding a long list of features including:

  • Integrating parts of the iPlanet stack, which includes the addition of the Sun ONE directory server and the planned addition of the Sun ONE application server;
  • Solaris Flash, which is designed to ease and speed application distribution;
  • Solaris Patch Manager, which helps administrators control how they release changes to the operating system;
  • An "enterprise class" firewall;
  • Provisioning and change management software;
  • Bundling a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) application server aimed at easing the deployment of Java applications and Web services; and
  • Built-in resource management tools that lets administrators set parameters of the CPU, memory and bandwidth for specific groups of workers or applications within the network.
  • "Solaris 9 integrates a Volume Manager and a Multi-pathing IO and it simplified management and provided me with redundancy," says John DeStefano, a member of the technical staff at 3PARdata Inc., a storage company based in Freemont, Calif. "Performance-wise, it allowed me to run a single application through multiple channels. If I lose one path, I still have another and don't lose access to my data. Greater uptime always means lower costs."

    Nothing 'Compelling Right Now To Have Us Move'

    DeStefano, who runs 10 Solaris servers in his IT shop, says they've spent the last nine months beta testing Solaris 9. And while he found the new version to be "rock solid," he says 3PARdata won't be immediately upgrading from his current systems.

    "Solaris 8 and Solaris 7 are very stable operating systems," he adds. "There isn't anything compelling right now to have us move."

    And that may be a common plan among most Solaris shops, according to Al Gillen, research director of system software at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based consulting firm.

    "Remember that customers who use operating systems like Unix don't run out and buy a new version because a new version came out," says Gillen. "Historically, even a year after an operating system like this is released, it's not unusual for them to have only a small percentage of their customer base using the latest release. ...If something is working and it's locked down and stable, they won't make a move because something new is out there."

    Brad Day, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group, adds that since Solaris has historically been a solid OS, corporate users are running old releases. Solaris 2.6, for instance, is still running in 35% of Solaris shops out there, according to Day. And Solaris 8 only accounts for 46%.

    "The upgrade to Solaris 9 will be compelling for those [IT executives] running the older releases, the Solaris 2.6," says Day, who adds that administrators will be most enticed by the increased performance and manageability. "If a new version makes system administrators more productive, that's great news. Cost efficiency and human efficiency. And they're getting that here."

    Day says the addition of Solaris Flash means that a task that once took four days might now take as little as four hours. He explains that when an administrator is building applications onto a server, it includes taking the time to load the CDs, test the applications and handle the configuration. To load the same application on another server means repeating all of those steps. Solaris Flash, though, will enable administrators to take a snap shot, or carbon, of that loading process and distribute it across multiple servers.

    "You're really starting to see more and more pieces of automation, of middleware of management being wrapped into the operating environment," says Illuminata's Haff. "The operating system really got more sophisticated."






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