Sun's Solaris 9 bundles software enhancements with server hardware, but it also requires users to purchase support contracts. Analysts caution that users should verify Sun's claims of reliability, scalability and efficiency enhancements.
When Sun Microsystems unveiled Solaris 9 this summer, the latest version of its enterprise operating system, it marked a continuation of a trend toward Web services as a form of workload management.
Sun's new version of Solaris reflects a move toward giving larger enterprises a way of collapsing more applications onto fewer servers, a key cost driver as enterprises deal with shrinking IT budgets. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun, in following this approach, is trying to keep pace with both IBM and Microsoft Corp., both of which are pursuing a similar strategy to drive enterprise services to the Web.
"What Sun is advocating is that administrators package workload in the form of services," says Tony Iams, senior analyst with D.H. Brown & Associates, a research firm in Port Chester, N.Y. "Sun is trying to show that the best way to host those services is by using its platform, both in terms of scalability and reliability."
Solaris 9 Operating Environment includes several software applications that were not part of its predecessor, Solaris 8. Solaris 9 Resource Manager, for example, gives network administrators a more granular approach to allocating network resources. A special feature of the software, known as Solaris Containers, can be used to assign processors, memory and bandwidth to specific applications, users and groups. Sun claims that this "server virtualization" eliminates competition for system resources and enables enterprises to simplify administration and reduce costs.
Another key software component, Solaris Volume Manager, is designed to boost storage and data management and keep critical applications available during routine network maintenance by allowing up to six soft partitions per disk. Sun also has rewritten patch manager software used for keeping systems optimally configured for new security patches.
Sun is touting security improvements for naming and directory services, based on the inclusion in Solaris 9 of a secure Lightweight Directory Access Protocol client. Sun also has integrated its Open Net Environment (Sun ONE) directory server hardware into Solaris 9. (Sun ONE formerly was known as the iPlanet family of servers). The aim is to give enterprise-class users an out-of-the-box solution melding hardware, software and support, analysts and users say.
"Sun has sweetened the deal considerably by integrating Sun ONE into the operating system," Iams says. "If you're going to start Java 2 Enterprise Edition deployment (for developing enterprise applications), that's a biggie because those systems cost about $20,000."
Despite the apparent enhancements, analysts say users ought to proceed cautiously, even if they have experience running Solaris networks.
"Usually with lots and lots of new code, you don't want to run your mission-critical applications until the platform is well proven," says George Weiss, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group. "A six-to-nine-month evaluation period would probably be worthwhile [since Solaris 9] is a fairly significant improvement."
New York City-based Pencom Systems Inc., an IT and biotechnology recruiting firm, wasted little time upgrading when the live version of Solaris 9 became available earlier this year. Even though Pencom didn't participate in beta tests for Solaris 9, Chief Technical Officer Michael Petosa says his company's previous experience with earlier versions of the platform made the upgrade an easy decision.
"We use Solaris because of the proven stability and scalability of the operating system," Petosa says. "Solaris 9 has many [Sun ONE] servers included in the OS distribution. We've found that 9 runs faster and is easier to install from scratch and upgrade from [Solaris versions] 7 and 8."
Not all Solaris users are floored by the features in the latest release.
"Most of Solaris 9 is about bundling and playing catch-up with Windows 2000," says Ken Robson, a systems architect with Computer Sciences Corp. in Copenhagen, Denmark. "Directory Services will form the backbone of most enterprises and Microsoft is beginning to own this space due to Active Directory. Sun has tried to play catch-up in this area."
Companies upgrading to Solaris 9 generally are larger enterprises, especially those that must deliver noticeable service-level agreements or high levels of secure services, Weiss says. There are obvious reasons for this: larger enterprises generally have both the manpower and the luxury of time to run a full-scale pilot test to eliminate flaws or buggy software.
Although the hardware and basic operating system software are included in a base price, Sun users are required to purchase a support services contract when buying Solaris 9 directly from Sun. The price for that can vary based on the level of service chosen.
"These maintenance contracts, depending on how many servers are covered, can cost an organization tens of thousands of dollars a month," says Weiss, who adds that enterprises need to be aware of Sun's history of offering discounts.
For instance, Solaris customers with support contracts will get Solaris 9 operating system software as part of the hardware package, regardless of system size. Customers without support contracts would be assessed license fees for software based on number of processors: $249 for two processors, $999 for up to four processors and $160,000 for up to 64 processors. Above that, pricing is negotiated.
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