Solaris 9 Faces Tough Crowd for Upgrade Nod

Officials at Sun Microsystems Inc. aren't the only ones hoping enterprise users upgrade quickly to Solaris 9.

Officials at Sun Microsystems Inc. arent the only ones hoping enterprise users upgrade quickly to Solaris 9. Jim Pilgrim, director of product management at managed hosting provider Digex Inc., is also pulling for the Unix-derived operating system to be a big hit among corporate customers who host their Web-based applications at Digexs data centers.

Digex supports about 780 Sun servers of various sizes running Solaris 8 and about 420 running Solaris 2.6. Getting customers to upgrade to Solaris 9—particularly from 2.6—would save Digex plenty by allowing the company to take advantage of price/ performance, manageability, security and availability improvements in the new operating system (see review, "Hard Line on 9").

But Pilgrim shouldnt hold his breath, say experts. Although the new operating system offers significant advantages over earlier Solaris versions, experts expect that depressed IT budgets and normal enterprise caution will add up to a relatively slow migration to Solaris 9. "Solaris 9 is a significant enhancement, but we dont expect it will have much impact on the market until 2003," said Brian Richardson, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Most of the installed base will take six to nine months evaluating the release before they even begin to move."

Pilgrim reluctantly agreed that a stampede to Solaris 9 is unlikely. "Most people are going to step back and see how it actually works," said Pilgrim, in Laurel, Md. "Security issues are always a big concern, so many organizations will wait for the first update patch."

Many enterprises also will wait until the packaged applications they are running on earlier versions of Solaris are certified on the new release. Sun has tried to shortcut this process by releasing a test suite that allows organizations to determine if their applications will run on Solaris 9 before certification, but most enterprises will wait until its official, a process that can take months, Metas Richardson said.

Certification is almost a moot issue for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, in Idaho Falls. Many of the applications used on Sun systems by the labs 5,000 scientists and engineers for research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy were internally developed. As a result, said Eric Greenwade, the labs high-performance computing and visualization group leader, IT managers have been able to quickly test applications and rewrite drivers where necessary to migrate to Solaris 9.

Several groups and individuals have already migrated, "and we expect other upgrades to go quickly," said Greenwade. Idaho National runs applications on everything from Sun desktop machines to large Sun Enterprise 10000 and 15000 servers.

For IT managers at the lab, the main attraction of Solaris 9 is its integration of application server, file system and directory capabilities, Greenwade said. "The folding in of various new services means that we dont have to rummage around for everything we need to run our applications," he said. "Plus, its a cost savings."

The change management enhancements in Solaris 9 also are important, Greenwade added, including features such as Live Upgrade, which allows for operating system upgrades with minimum downtime, and Solaris Flash, which provides a snapshot of software installed on a given machine to reduce reinstallation time.

Users at Idaho National and elsewhere also expect in some cases significant performance enhancements from Solaris 9.

New multithreading and memory optimization features, particularly running on newer UltraSPARC III-based hardware, should deliver significant price/performance improvements, some IT managers say.

"Solaris 9 will be able to take advantage of the significantly increased memory available on UltraSPARC III," said Digexs Pilgrim. "We expect to see performance boosts in the 50 percent range or more for 15 percent to 17 percent more money."

A couple of years ago, that kind of price/performance improvement would have been enough to induce many enterprises to move to Solaris 9. Today, however, that may not be enough to overcome current lean IT budgets—at least not in the short term.

"A lot of users these days are very concerned about controlling costs, and upgrading an OS can fall into the discretionary [budget] category of items that are easily postponed," said Metas Richardson. "Major OS upgrades like this one tend to take place much more slowly than vendors would like."

Executive Managing Editor Jeff Moad can be reached at

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