Shrinking Solaris

Sun Microsystems’ Solaris 10 may be powerful enough to power a data grid, but for real market growth, Sun is looking inward to the embedded space.

Despite the hoopla at this month’s announcement party to launch Solaris 10, the focus for the operating system has been outside the usual realm of server rooms and desktops.

“Scaling down was one of the major focuses of Solaris 10 and we
performed many micro-benchmarks,” Glenn Weinberg, vice president of
operating environments at Sun, told “We start with the larger appliances because that is where the greatest need is, but we’re seeing Solaris powering storage devices and other data computers. Something like a TiVo but smaller than a breadbox.”

The operating system is about two months from its official release, with some code availability and additional downloads expected in the next 45 days. Weinberg said Sun is hoping to make future versions of Solaris even more modular so developers can pick and choose the pieces they want.

Solaris could find both opportunities and challenges in the embedded sector, which, according to In-Stat/MDR, makes up about 60 percent of the CPU market.

The default supported configuration for Solaris requires 128 MB of RAM . However, the system can be configured to run on far less memory.

“I would hesitate to take our default configuration below 64M of
RAM,” Weinberg said. “You can run a minimalist configuration in 32M, but
if you want NFS, IPSec, etc., you should add more memory.”

Weinberg said installing Solaris on a machine this low on memory
isn’t generally an issue for embedded systems since the storage would be
loaded on a larger configuration or just restored from flash archives.
Future versions of Solaris 10 will likely require more RAM to boot.

Scaling Solaris down for the embedded market is exactly what analysts
have been suggesting for Sun. Dana Gardner, senior analyst with The
Yankee Group, told one area that Solaris may find
some fertile ground in the embedded space is with a combination of
real-time Java and the Solaris operating system.

“Now that they have shown they can return to the market, what
Sun needs to do now is grow their markets and not just return to
the same places that they’ve been successful before,” Gardner said.

Yankee Group stats show Microsoft has about 15 percent of the market
share, but no real leader has emerged so far.

Weinberg said the idea that Solaris could power a mobile phone may be
a few years away but not totally unrealistic, given that memory
performance has been improving in handsets.

“If disk is available for swap space, less RAM will be needed.
Solaris 10 has a new service management framework that makes disabling
unneeded services much easier,” Weinberg said. “Adding more RAM removes
the need for swap space on disks and will improve performance.”

The modularity of Solaris is also helpful as Sun prepares to release
the Solaris source code to the open source community. Currently, Sun has
45 expert pilot tests in operation with a goal of 100 finished by the
beginning of the year.

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