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Sun Revives Solaris x86 with Beta

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After a year of debate, Sun Microsystems Monday released a testing version of its Solaris 9 operating environment for systems that can run on Intel’s x86 architecture.

The Solaris 9 12/02 x86 Platform Edition Early Access program is being offered as a download, accessible at the Sun Download Center for $20 per download. Previous versions of Solaris supported both Sun’s SPARC chips and Intel’s, but this is the first time that Sun has released an x86 version for the server operating system since January.

This is the revitalization of the Solaris 9 for x86,” Sun Solaris product line manager Bill Moffitt told

New to this beta version is integrated iPlanet Directory Server software; new security features like Kerberos 5 and Secure Shell for sysadmins; Solaris Volume Manager; and Solaris Resource Manager.

“I think the most exciting thing is the Solaris container story,” said Moffitt. “With this feature, developers can build virtual servers on the x86 platform and have applications run on those servers without getting in the way. The classic case is that you have an application that eats up all the CPU resources. The container helps manage that better.

Moffitt said the x86 version would be included in the next Solaris 9 update 2 scheduled for release on December 20. A standalone version of Solaris 9 based x86 chip architectures is currently in production for non-Sun hardware. That software release is expected to ship in January for $99 for a single CPU system. Sun said pricing beyond that is still being hammered out.

“From our side, we never stopped the development of x86 for Solaris,” said Moffitt. “What we stopped was the testing and building of the more expensive related products like the media kits. We wanted to make sure that when we turned it back on we would be able to in a conscientious way. It was just a matter of time before Sun revitalized Solaris for x86.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun “deferred productization” of the Solaris 9 Intel version in January 2002 in favor of one that runs on its own UltraSPARC chips. After some public outcry, Sun met with a group of customers and developers including a group known as the “Secret Six” to try to work out a compromise.

The Secret Six is a group of passionate users of Solaris on Intel chips who were elected on online discussion boards to meet with Sun.

The debate came to a boiling point last month, when Groenveld and members of fired off an open letter to Sun CEO Scott McNealy blasting him and the company for waffling on the decision to support x86 for newest version of Solaris.

The talks proved fruitful and in August, Sun said it would support Solaris 9 on Sun x86 hardware for its LX50 server.

Developers like Save-Solaris-x86 spokesperson John Groenveld say the beta release feels a bit like Christmas.

“I am glad to see that Sun is honoring its commitment to its customers by delivering Solaris 9 x86,” Groenveld said. “The inclusion of the Sun ONE suite including the application servers will help me convince my management to transition from BEA Weblogic running under Microsoft Windows NT to Sun. The inclusion of Kerberos, LDAP, ssh (Secure Shell), and IPsec enables me to securely link together a network of x86-based front-end servers and development systems with large SPARC-based database, application, and file servers. Running a homogeneous operating environment across architectures is a big win.”

Although Solaris 9 x86 OE Customer Early Access software is not supported by Sun, the company has established an online community forum.

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