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Oracle Solaris 11: Too Little, Too Late?

It's taken the better part of 14 months from preview to general availability, but Oracle is now shipping Solaris 11, which it is calling the first fully virtualized cloud operating system. Solaris 11 is already in production at more than 700 companies and deployed on thousands of Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage Appliances, as well as on the Oracle Exadata Database Machine X2-2 and X2-8 and the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud engineered systems. Oracle Solaris 11 Express, which started shipping in November 2010, added network virtualization and resource management, as well as new availability features to reduce planned downtime by up to 50%.

The database giant, which acquired the software along with Sun's hardware business 20 months ago, says this release is engineered for Oracle VM sever virtualization on both x86- and SPARC-based systems, and the Oracle Solaris Zones virtualization scales up to hundreds of zones per physical node at a 15 times lower overhead than VMware. Other features in the operating system include Oracle Enterprise Manager Ops Center systems support for centralized control over hardware, OS and virtualization resources, and Oracle Solaris ZFS, which delivers data integrity, flash-enabled tiered storage pools, line speed encryption, and the scalability to store and manage unlimited amounts of data. The company says with ZFS deduplication, customers can reduce their storage requirements in virtualized environments by 10 times.

Oracle is also announcing a new world record result on SPECjvm2008, a general-purpose, multithreaded Java benchmark. The company says Solaris 10 users can see an up to 41% improvement.

According to an Oracle-sponsored report from IDC (The Evolving Enterprise and Operating Systems: New Requirements for a New Age of Computing, May 2011), the future of computing will depend upon high availability. "No matter the cause, the need to minimize downtime is paramount when it comes to mission-critical systems ... even planned downtime involving routine procedures such as patches and upgrades can affect core operations." And while high availability can be derived from a variety of IT resources, operating systems matter, it states.

Virtualization needs to be optimized at all levels to provide the best performance for business
workloads, and, increasingly, virtualization is seen as an enabler for cloud computing because workloads in the cloud need to be provisioned from virtualized pools of server and storage resources. IDC predicts that public cloud services will grow on the order of 30% to 40% in 2011, resulting in a market for cloud computing infrastructure that will exceed $55 billion by 2014.

What really caught the eye of Charles King, principal analyst, Pund-IT, were the newly integrated file deduplication and encryption capabilities that had been available as a ZFS add-on for Solaris 10. "Those are both critical areas for many enterprises, but are typically addressed, at least in the case of dedupe, with separate solutions. Oracle also made a lot of performance claims about the new OS, but I’ll wait to see independent testing to see how much smoke the company is blowing. It should also be noted that even if those performance bumps are confirmed, they won’t have any effect on the vast number of installed Sun systems that aren’t compatible with S11."

King says since the Sun deal was wrapped, Oracle has focused almost exclusively on developing specialty appliances rather that general-purpose servers. "Solaris 11 finally provides them some firepower for those discussions. But the fact is that the company’s market share continues to decline, and I’m not sure there’s enough here to staunch the bleeding. Certainly dedicated Sun shops will find lots to love in S11, but there are far fewer of those today than there were three to four years ago, and somehow I can’t imagine IBM or HP customers seeing S11 as enough of a driver to abandon those vendors for Oracle."

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