As odd as it may seem, the OpenSolaris development release of Sun Microsystems' Unix operating system has only been available officially on x64 PCs, workstations, and servers. The OpenSolaris distribution has not been packaged up for Sparc workstations or servers. Starting today, with the OpenSolaris 2009.06 release, both x64 and Sparc iron are now supported in the distro.
According to the release notes, OpenSolaris 2009.06 can run on all Sun4v-based platforms (that is UltraSparc T1 and T2 machines) and Sun4u-based platforms (that's UltraSparc-II, UltraSparc-III, and UltraSparc-IV machines). These latter machines have to have an OBP level of 4.17 or greater, and across all Sparc machinery, the distro is only available as an Automated Install image. (Fujitsu's Sparc64 platforms were not mentioned as being supported.)
The initial "Project Indiana" OpenSolaris 2008.05 release, which came out a little more than a year ago, was targeted mainly at 32-bit x86 and 64-bit x64 desktops and laptops for students and workstations, and with the OpenSolaris 2008.11 update Sun started pushing the distro as suitable for production workloads on x64 servers.
The OpenSolaris 2009.06 release is notable for a few reasons. Unlike other development operating systems, such as Red Hat's Fedora and Novell's openSUSE, OpenSolaris is available with the full suite of support services from Sun. The support was a bit different than that available on standard Solaris 10 platforms, and with bigger x64 boxes - the kinds that customers use to run production Solaris workloads - Sun was charging higher prices for OpenSolaris than it was charging for Solaris 10. It did so presumably because it was more expensive to deliver 24x7 support on OpenSolaris because the code was a little more raw, as a development release always is.
But starting today, according to Charlie Boyle, director of Solaris product marketing, OpenSolaris 2009.06 and Solaris 10 (in its many updates) have exactly the same Sun Spectrum support prices for silver, gold, and platinum support, and they are the Solaris, rather than the higher OpenSolaris, prices. Solaris and OpenSolaris have the same support contracts, even if they use different mechanisms to deliver support. This is something that Sun's field sales and support people have been asking for because customers wanted it.
The updated OpenSolaris is also the first release of any Sun Unix variant to sport the Project Crossbow networking virtualisation and management stack to market. Crossbow has a reimplemented networking stack with revised architecture that virtualises Ethernet network interfaces and InfiniBand host adapters.
Up until now, Solaris and OpenSolaris tied an Ethernet NIC or InfiniBand adapter to a specific CPU inside of a machine or, in a virtualised environment, to a virtual machine. But with the Crossbow stack, Ethernet NICs and InfiniBand adapters are themselves now virtualised, and system administrators can carve up slices of high-bandwidth networking adapters to provide each VM or processor core with a suitable amount of bandwidth. Before, a fast 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 20 Gigabit InfiniBand adapter card would be tied to a CPU or VM, which it could easily flood.
Boyle says that the Crossbow stack can be managed using standard SNMP tools (for both physical and virtual network links), which means HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli, and other system management tools can reach into the OpenSolaris servers and monitor and manage them. This is not the case, Boyle says, with the "California" Unified Computing System built by Cisco Systems with the help of VMware. "Cisco and VMware do proprietary stuff, and you have to use their tools to manage networking."
OpenSolaris 2009.06 also has fine-grained control for networking, which means you can do traffic shaping and provide quality-of-service guarantees (such as a minimum bandwidth or latency) for the networking for physical and virtual machines. This kind of fine-grain control, and monitoring through dynamic tracing (DTrace) has been available in Solaris for processors and memory capacity for years, but networking has been set up as a shared resource that the operating system can just hog at will. "We now give you the tools to set network limits and the tools to observe the effect of the limits that you set," says Boyle.
In addition to the Crossbow features, OpenSolaris 2009.06 includes a bunch of other tweaks and tucks. The Zettabyte File System (ZFS) is now tweaked to automatically turn any flash-based memory or drives in a system into read and write accelerators for disk subsystems. The native OpenSolaris CIFS Windows file server has been added as a full peer to NFS in OpenSolaris, and faster iSCSI and Fibre Channel block protocols have been added into the OpenSolaris kernel as well.
OpenSolaris 2009.06 already has support for the "Istanbul" six-core Opteron processor whose launch is imminent, and supports most of the features in the "Nehalem EP" Xeon 3500 and Xeon 5500 processors from Intel, which were launched in March. Support for Sun's future "Rock" UltraSparc-RK processors is also in the release, and this software could, in theory, run on Intel's eight-core "Nehalem EX" Xeon 7500 processors, even though they won't be here until next year. Boyle says that more tweaks for the Nehalem and Istanbul processors will come out with the next OpenSolaris release in about six months.
Because Sun is competing against Linux for a lot of accounts, it is always comparing OpenSolaris to Linux. On its Project libMicro performance benchmark suite, OpenSolaris 2009.06 has 35 per cent better memory management, 22 per cent better integer math performance, and 18 per cent better multithread scheduler management compared to the latest Linux releases on the same iron.
According to the release notes, Sun is not planning on putting another OpenSolaris release into the field until 2010, and it is a fair guess that this release will be timed to the eight-core Nehalem EX processor from Intel and the six-core "Lisbon" and twelve-core "Magny-Cours" Opterons. That future OpenSolaris will have full interactive installation on Sparc platforms (including installing a custom spin based on the OpenSolaris repository), and will also presumably support Fujitsu Sparc64 machines. That future OpenSolaris will sport a new Gnome interface, ZFS deduplication and user quotas for storage and "cloud integration." ®