Solaris 9 to Ease Patch Uploads

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2002-05-13 Print this article Print

Sun hopes to lift up its operating system where competitors have slipped, through automated software and security patch uploading.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is hoping to lift up its operating system where competitors have slipped, through automated software and security patch uploading. Among the new features planned for Solaris 9, due at the end of the month, is Patch Manager, an analysis engine that automates the process of locating required security and software patches for a target system, said officials of the Palo Alto, Calif., company. Also on tap is Solaris Product Registry, a mechanism that maintains a record of the software installed, modified or removed through the life cycle of a system. "The goal is to provide a consistent repository of information unique to that system, held locally so it can be interrogated from multiple sources," said Derek Maxwell, Suns product line manager for Solaris. "This is important for administrators, as it gives them a total software history for a machine."
Patch Manager, a Java application downloaded to the system, checks the configuration, determines what patches are already loaded and compares this against the Patch Database resident at Sun. A patch assessment and recommendation is issued based on what patches should be on such a configured system, said Dave Uhlir, group manager for Solaris Systems, a division of Sun.
"These are all signed patches and delivered via a secure transport protocol, which is a change from the current system of general delivery of unsigned patches," Uhlir said. "We want to ensure customers only get those patches appropriate for their systems." Uhlir said administrators will have control and can either take no action or schedule installs whenever its convenient. "Users can be very granular about which of these discrete patches they select," he said. Patches destabilize systems Earlier this year, some Windows XP users said automatic patches delivered from Microsoft Corp.s Windows Update caused systems to become unstable and some device drivers to stop working. That is unlikely to happen with Solaris Patch Manager, Uhlir said, because Suns patches are limited to narrow issues and designed to fix only known problems without touching other parts of the system. Windows Update often pushes out a conglomeration of patches and enhancements all at once that can cause unintended changes under the covers, he said. Jim Cullinan, lead product manager for Windows XP at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., said Microsoft has a unique set of challenges with patches, given the huge number of Windows users and the variety of system and hardware configurations they have. "Our patch delivery system is not perfect yet, but we are doing the best we can," Cullinan said. "We are listening to customers and providing the tools they want. Suns Solaris is nowhere near as popular as Windows, so they do not face the same challenges we do." John Weekley, an information security analyst at a large financial company in St. Louis, welcomed the Sun moves, saying users will now be able to easily gather the total history of a system. But Weekley said that, as a security analyst, he was still concerned about the prospect of Patch Manager sending what amounted to vulnerability data to a third party. "Id much prefer to see this functionality provided as an entirely stand-alone system that could be used from inside corporate defenses, without exposing what could be sensitive information to others," Weekley said. Alan DuBoff, CEO of Software Orchestration Inc., in San Jose, Calif., disagreed, saying it makes sense to be able to get security patches easily over the network to update a machine. Sun will also offer a command-line version of Patch Manager for all previous versions from Solaris 2.6 onward sometime after the Solaris 9 launch, Suns Uhlir said. Also shipping for the first time with Solaris 9 is Live Update, a technology that allows users to set up multiple boot environments that can be assembled offline. If one such environment is problematic, users can reboot into the previous environment. Related stories
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    Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

    He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

    He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

    He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

    He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

    He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

    His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

    For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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