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Comdex: Sun touts Solaris 8 as Windows 2000 alternative

November 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:41 a.m. EST (1541 GMT)

by Clare Haney graphic

LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- With Microsoft Corp. preaching the reliability and scalability of its upcoming Windows 2000 operating system here this week, Sun Microsystems Inc. has been busy touting the advantages of its next release of its Unix OS -- Solaris 8. One of the groups Sun is aiming the new OS at are users looking to move their data centers onto the Net, according to a company senior executive.

An early-access version of the 64-bit Solaris 8 operating system is due to be shipped on November 27, with users in the "thousands" already having ordered it over the Internet, according to Jeff Bernard, Sun's director of marketing for Solaris Software, based in Burlington, MA. Bernard talked to IDG News Service in an interview here during the Comdex trade show.

Both Solaris 8 and Windows 2000 are scheduled to become generally available in February of next year. Microsoft has specified Feb. 17 as the exact date for the official release of Windows 2000, formerly codenamed NT 5. Sun has yet to commit to an exact date in February, to leave the company "some wriggle room," Bernard said.

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Windows 2000

Bernard pronounced himself "stunned" by the estimate Microsoft, Unisys Corp., and EMC Corp. gave on Monday here that data centers running Windows 2000 will cost one-fifth to one-third of the price of a Unix-based system and will also offer customers significant savings over Unix in terms of TCO (total cost of ownership).

"Where did they get that number?" Bernard asked. "Building our three-tier model, you can generate TCO immediately."

Talking up what Sun still sees as Unix's advantages over high-end Windows, Bernard stressed Solaris's ability to "build support for any known device," along with OS manageability, availability, scalability, security, and universality. On the latter point, he said, "Once you're on the Net, you can't assume what is on the other end of wire. There is no such thing as a vendor standard, only open standard."

Bernard said that Solaris 8 shouldn't be considered as a way of "mainframing the OS," but added that Sun has put in features that the classic data center customer would want. "Solaris will complement the mainframe to (create) the data," he said.

However, the OS is also aimed at the likes of ASPs (application service providers) who are keen to bring mainframe-like rigor for design architecture into their systems, Bernard added.

"We've really got availability nailed (with Solaris 8) and have completely removed scalability issues," Bernard said. The OS can run on up to 256 CPUs (central processing units) and supports the IPv6 standard. "IPv6 can bring China online because they're running out of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses," he said. Solaris 8 will also be able to run IPv4 at the same time as IPv6, he added.

Bernard explained that Sun employees are "compensated and goaled on availability," in terms of how many system failures or user calls they receive relating to system availability.

Some of the new features in Solaris 8 include Live Update, a way to keep the old OS intact as a user tries out the new operating system.

In the past, in moving to a new version of the operating system, users would need to uninstall the old OS, install the new one and then spend time testing it out, Bernard said. If they didn't want to move to the new OS and wanted to move back to the old system, they would've lost all their old settings and would have to reinstall the previous OS all over again.

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With Live Update, users can partition part of the OS and install the new OS while retaining the log files of the old OS on their system. They can then reboot to try the new OS or reboot the system again to return to their original OS, he added.

Dynamic reconfiguration is a feature Solaris has had for some time, enabling users to take a device offline, then allocate resources to it and bring it back online. The new addition to the technology in Solaris 8 is support for SCSI devices, Bernard said.

Reconfiguration Manager allows users to set policies for how their OS should behave if something goes wrong with the system, he said. "You can script exactly how you want the system to behave when things go wrong," Bernard said.

Should there be a need to patch the OS kernel when the machine is running, Sun's enterprise server team will now be able to do that via "hot patching," Bernard said.

Not all of the features he discussed this week will be available in the February release of Solaris 8; some will come out with the quarterly updates of the OS, Bernard explained. "It's like passengers for a train: Not all of them get onboard at the same time," he said.

Other features for Solaris 8 include job, project, and accounting support, a mainframe concept of tracking processes to do the proper billing and accounting for different departments in a company, Bernard said.

Role-based access control will enable companies to allocate the priority to modify pieces of the OS to different people by name and by role.

Solaris Resource Manager for load balancing and Solaris Bandwidth Manager for handling bandwidth issues are currently separate products, but are likely to be copackaged as one entity in the future, Bernard said.

Sun is eventually likely to make Solaris an open-source product, Bernard said. Last month, the company made a tentative move on the path to free availability of the OS, with a community-source license for Solaris.

"The suggestion is that open source would be a good thing for Solaris," Bernard said. "However, there are trade-offs to the open-source model in terms of intellectual property ... and the stability, predictability, and support needed in a production environment."

He argued that looking at Sun as either being open or completely closed -- in terms of its attitude toward the open-source development model -- is the wrong way to think about what the company is trying to do. "We're somewhere along the path to open source," Bernard said. "We will increasingly get there."

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