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Sun Releases Solaris 'Fire Engine'

When it wasn't talking about losing money this week, Sun Microsystems was making a serious fuss over the next generation of its Solaris operating environment.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker Wednesday released the next round of its Solaris Express software (code-named Fire Engine). As first reported by internetnews.com, customers can download high-quality snapshots of the very latest Sun Solaris technologies on regular monthly intervals for both SPARC and x86 systems.

The early access program is an unsupported model with no traditional 1-hour support. Similar to how the Linux community offers a public review of its future kernel builds, Sun says the benefit of Solaris Express is that customers and even competitors can put the sneak peak software on their systems (not for production use) and test it out in their own servers. Sun says the idea is for its developers to get feedback and find out what works and what doesn't.

Sun Group Manager Solaris Product Manager Bill Moffitt says there have been close to 16,000 downloads of Solaris Express since it debuted last month. Some 80 percent of those downloads are going to systems running on x86.

"Some suggestions come in and we turn them around and implement them in about a week. Some suggestions we never do anything with," Moffitt told internetnews.com. "We go through about a five weeks period -- two weeks of testing, three weeks of documentation and then we have what is called 'soak time' where Sun Labs makes sure what ever we have works well and plays well with others."

Moffitt says the approved builds are then slated for future Solaris releases, whether it is Solaris 10, 11 or beyond. The next update of Solaris is due on November 10 and has been checked into the tree for a couple of weeks now.

With Fire Engine, Moffitt says Sun is addressing next generation Ethernet capabilities and taking a second look at Network File System (NFS) version 5. The precursor to all file sharing protocols is ironically something Sun invented back in early 80s.

"We see gigabit Ethernet right now, 10 gigabit Ethernet on the horizon and 100 gigabit Ethernet just over the hill," Moffitt said. "We replaced the way we did packets to what we call a 'packet classification engine'. Now you can shuttle a lot of the work off the TCP/IP stack to take better advantage of processor threading and shuttle that onto dedicated hardware like you will see when these smart NIC cards come out."

Other improvements released this week include what Sun calls "Atomic Operations" and code conversions for internationalized domain name support.

One feature Moffitt says would be great for system administrators is called "DTrace". The diagnostic tool has its own scripting language and is capable of letting an admin turn on trace points in the kernel, collect data, and then turn it off without having to shut down the system.

Moffitt said Sun developed the technology after engineers found a problem with the company's employee network.

"When we work on deploying GNOME we found we were getting a tenth the amount of users than we knew we could handle on our Sun Ray servers," Moffitt said. "Using the DTrace tool, it took them an hour to find a stock ticker application that was eating up resources like mad. They disabled it without bringing down the network."

Going forward, Moffitt says Sun is working on its next generation of Solaris containers, currently code-named "Zone", which should come out early next year.