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OpenSolaris: Foreshadowing Next Solaris?

Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:JAVA) today announced a major new update to its OpenSolaris operating system. Technically called OpenSolaris 2009.06, the new release includes enhanced networking, virtualization and storage capabilities for the open source operating system.

The new release is not considered by Sun to be a replacement for its flagship Solaris 10 operating system, though Sun is now extending commercial support for OpenSolaris 2009.06 for up to five years. The 2009.06 release comes at a critical time for Sun and is likely the last OpenSolaris release before Sun is acquired by Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) later this year.

"This is really a transparent development step toward the next generation of the Solaris platform," Dan Roberts, director of product management datacenter software marketing at Sun, told InternetNews.com. "Initially, OpenSolaris had a developer-and desktop-centric flavor, but in this release we've moved from just desktop and developer to a datacenter-capable mission-critical operating system."

OpenSolaris first debuted in 2005 as Sun's effort to build the next generation of Solaris in the open. It is updated frequently, with the last major release, 2008.11, out last November.

With OpenSolaris 2009.06, Sun is adding something that it calls "Project Crossbow," which is a major rewrite of the Solaris networking stack to support greater speeds. Project Crossbow also in effect virtualizes the entire operating system network stack, including the network interface cards (NICs) on a server.

Roberts explained that in a traditional datacenter network topology, there is a collection of servers in front of which are networking switches, routers, load balancers and other appliances to manage application traffic flow. With the move toward server virtualization, Roberts noted that the same sort of consolidation can be had from a networking perspective as well.

"With Crossbow we are able to deliver a framework for virtualizing the network stack to include virtual switches and routers inside of the server to simplify connections," Roberts said.

From a management point of view, Sun is adding the ability to do resource management control from a bandwidth perspective for the applications sitting on the Crossbow stack. As such, an OpenSolaris administrator can in effect perform application traffic shaping on a server for network optimization.

Crossbow will also give the OpenSolaris networking stack a greater degree of performance, with optimized delivery for newer networking standards like 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40 Gigabit InfiniBand.

"We need to re-write the existing stack to be able to take advantage of those higher speeds," Roberts said. "That's a lot of bandwidth, and you need a stack that understands it."

Roberts added that Sun is also previewing its next generation clustering system which leverages Crossbow for optimized server synchronization and hardware failover capabilities.

OpenSolaris 2009.06 also includes native Microsoft CIFS integration for better Microsoft server compatibility. OpenSolaris already includes support for Samba, which is a widely deployed open source solution for accessing Microsoft file servers. Roberts explained that having native CIFS is a better option.

"Samba is a tunnel protocol that is just a little more complex for people to set up and doesn’t have the same performance," Roberts said. "By using CIFS, you have a native protocol in kernel that will allow Windows systems to connect to it directly without having to do the level of configuration that you often have to do with Samba."

Roberts added that the CIFS integration is being licensed by Sun from Microsoft as part of a cross-licensing deal with Microsoft.

Solaris Next?

As part of the 2009.06 rollout, Sun is also now set to provide up to five years of commercial support for OpenSolaris. Yet even with commercial support and new features, Sun does not consider OpenSolaris to actually be a full replacement for Solaris 10 -– yet. Sun updated Solaris 10 in April with the 5/09 release, including new performance and security features.

"You can consider it a preview of Solaris Next, but it is not yet Solaris Next," Roberts said. "In this release, we are very clearly positioning OpenSolaris towards deployment and as a preview for what might be in the next version of Solaris, but we're not quite there yet. We don’t have the same level of enterprise-class, ten-to-twelve years of guaranteed support, or the same level of ISV support as we have today with Solaris 10."