Solaris 9 a welcome addition

Latest release of Sun's Unix operating system brings new tools and better reliability

Sun Microsystems Inc. has improved reliability and manageability with the latest release of its Unix-based Solaris operating system.

For starters, Sun announced this month that it will once again support the use of Solaris on Intel Corp.-based computers, not just systems running Sun's SPARC processors. It's an about-face for the company, which dropped Solaris support for Intel systems after its release of Solaris 8.

However, the news is not all that it seems. Customers using Intel architectures will not be able to download Solaris versions as they have in the past. The newest version of the operating system, Solaris 9, will only be available for Intel systems that Sun sells, such as the new LX50.

Still, agencies seeking ways to reduce hardware and software costs might want to consider replacing existing SPARC systems with the lower-priced Intel hardware and either Sun Linux 5.0 or Solaris 9 for Intel.

Intel's 32-bit architecture may not be powerful enough for key data center servers, many of which run on Sun's 64-bit SPARC-based systems, but it certainly makes sense for print and file sharing and similar functions.

A Heavy Lifter

Sun recently began shipping Solaris 9, an update to the 64-bit SPARC version of its operating system. In our tests, we found that the SPARC version of Solaris 9 compares favorably with rivals in the same class, such as IBM Corp.'s AIX, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP-UX and Linux.

For example, agencies that need beefy hardware to power critical functions will find that Solaris 9 can support up to 128 SPARC-based CPUs compared with a maximum of 64 CPUs on other platforms.

In addition, Solaris 9 supports up to 576G of memory, compared to 256G supported by rival operating systems, such as AIX. This expandability will enable agencies to increase application scalability without multiplying hardware investments.

We found a number of useful additions and enhancements in this Solaris release. In particular, we liked being able to use the enhanced live update function to keep our systems current without taking the servers off-line. In addition, a new Patch Manager — part of the Common Desktop Environment graphical user interface — makes it easier to stay up to date with the latest available patches.

File system operations on our Solaris 9 systems are clearly faster than in previous Solaris releases. In addition, the new version offers threading and memory access enhancements, which should provide a performance boost for clustered configurations.

Solaris 9 comes with an updated version of the Management Console, which includes new tools to help administer servers more easily. We used the Management Console to set up user accounts and disk volumes, and found it very easy to use. We also had no trouble configuring the included firewall, SunScreen 3.2.

Agencies that want to run either SPARC workstations or Solaris 9 for Intel on Sun's LX50 workstation will find a number of tools and applications that make Sun technologies a good choice for desktop use.

All told, Solaris 9 is well-suited to a variety of uses in nearly any government agency. Server administrators seeking improved tools and facilities should definitely consider Solaris 9 for SPARC architectures. Agency managers seeking edge-of-network server and desktop cost reductions should also evaluate Solaris 9 for Intel on Sun's newest hardware or consider Sun's Linux 5.0 as a cost-cutting option.

Biggs is a senior software engineer in the financial sector and a freelance high-tech journalist based in northern California.

REPORT CARD

Solaris 9

Score: A

Sun Microsystems Inc.

(800) 555-9786

www.sun.com

Solaris 9 costs $95.

Solaris 9, which is available for SPARC systems or Intel Corp. architectures running on Sun hardware, adds a wealth of new features that will help reduce costs while increasing the security, scalability and reliability of mission-critical applications.

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