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Solaris 8 Administrator's Guide by Dr. Paul Andrew Watters

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Chapter 1.  The Network Is the Computer

Sun’s marketing slogans have long focused around a single, underlying concept: “The network is the computer.” Far from being the typical marketing hype that surrounds all operating system releases, this slogan succinctly describes what Sun—and its flagship operating system SunOS—is all about. Although SunOS is a Unix operating system, it is part of a complete operating environment, known as Solaris. Thus, the core operating system is distinguished from the surrounding environment. If you just want a Unix operating system, SunOS is the most popular, since it takes advantage of current System V standards (even though it was originally built from BSD).

However, if you want a complete operating environment that is specifically designed to support network services, then Solaris provides many different applications and services toward this goal. Indeed, the vision associated with Solaris systems is not of a single host operating alone, but of many hosts working together to provide high-availability, high-performance distributed services. This is not a new vision: Sun engineers have developed the very core of what is considered the standard network in services and protocols, from RPC and NFS at the system level to Java at the development level.

SunOS is always designed, modified, and updated to suit the hardware Sun manufactures, rather than a base to which other hardware vendors try and adapt their hardware. This creates a coherence that is missing in operating systems not designed with specific hardware devices in mind.

While other operating-system vendors have oscillated between consumer and enterprise releases, Sun has focused on developing a system that is exactly the same for desktop systems as it is for enterprise systems: scalability depends only on hardware with Solaris, not on the operating system. This means that administrators, developers, and users can seamlessly move between a $1,000 Sun Ray, and a $1,000,000 E10000, and work with exactly the same user interface and toolset.

Sun ONE (Open Network Environment)

For an integrated plan of how Solaris services are usually deployed, Sun has developed the Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) specification (http://www.sun.com/software/sunone/). This specifies the framework of the typical layers involved in providing enterprise-level network services. These layers are displayed in Figure 1-1. The basic topology is client/server: a client makes a request for a service or data, which is then passed through a frontend system, then through a layer consisting of application servers and containers, which in turn are integrated with backend systems (possibly legacy systems) by middleware. The service or data is then provided back to the client, returning along the same chain as the request in the opposite direction. Underlying these operations are distributed user and resource management, supported by SunOS. An additional layer not associated with transactions in real time, but which ultimately supports these services, is development. So, Solaris services can be roughly divided into development and deployment services.

Sun ONE network architecture
Figure 1-1. Sun ONE network architecture

Although ONE, as described by Sun, is illustrated with the Sun’s products (such as the iPlanet service range), one advantage of having an open architecture is that other vendors’ products can be substituted. For example, while the iPlanet Application Server and iPlanet Web Server are excellent products, a company that develops e-commerce applications using Borland’s JBuilder product may well want to take advantage of the integration features of JBuilder with the Borland Application Server, and VisiBroker for Java CORBA server. Alternatively, iPlanet’s unified user-management system could be replaced with a Kerberos product that provides distributed authentication. Choosing a vendor for a specific layer, such as application services, shouldn’t mean having to use only the products provided by the operating-system vendor, because secret API calls and proprietary technology available only to developers who work for the operating-system vendor prohibit third-party integration. With Sun’s open architecture, third-party products can always be substituted for Sun’s own.

I’ll now review some of Sun’s ONE tools, and contrast them with some third-party alternatives.

Development Tools

Sun supplies the Forte range of GUI-based development tools for Java, C, C++, and Fortran. These tools support a wide range of application building, code editing and viewing, class development, debugging, and performance tuning. Commercial alternatives to Forte include Borland’s JBuilder and C++ Builder, which can be used to build Java and C/C++ applications. The GNU project (http://www.gnu.org/) also has well-respected free C, C++, and Fortran compilers, which are now supplied as part of the Solaris distribution. A free Java compiler is supplied with Sun’s Java Development Kit (http://java.sun.com/), although a faster and more efficient compiler comes in the form of Jikes, which is available free of charge from IBM (http://alphaworks.ibm.com/).

Frontend Services

The iPlanet Portal Server provides a set of user-focused services that can be combined to support full-fledged e-commerce applications. Features include content customization; user, group, and knowledge management; and collaborative tools. In addition, the Portal Server supports multiple client types, from WAP to standard and secure HTTP clients. Alternatives to Portal Server include Lotus Domino (http://www.lotus.com/), which runs on Solaris, as well as Reef Internetware, which is written in Java (http://www.reef.com/).

Service Containers

The iPlanet Application Server implements the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification for providing server-side, object-oriented application servers. Typical J2EE services supported include Java Server Pages (JSP), servlets, and Enterprise JavaBeans (stateless, stateful, entity, and session beans), building on standard Model-View-Controller (MVC) patterns. Alternatives to iPlanet include the Borland Application Server (http://www.borland.com/), which supports full integration with CORBA and Borland’s range of development products. A freeware alternative is the Apache JServ module (http://java.apache.org/), which supports servlets through the standard Apache web server (http://www.apache.org/).

Service Integration

The iPlanet Integration Server is middleware that acts as glue to bind application servers, data sources, and legacy systems. It is one of the few products that can successfully integrate Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technologies with more modern data-processing systems, such as distributed object technologies. New transactional standards such as the Java Message Service (JMS) are linked with XML and traditional data descriptions (such as DDL) to coordinate and integrate different data sources and applications.

User and Resource Management

Sun suggests several products for implementing distributed user and resource management, including:

  • iPlanet Certificate Management System

  • iPlanet Delegated Administrator

  • iPlanet Directory Access Router

  • iPlanet Directory Server

  • iPlanet Meta-Directory

  • iPlanet Proxy Server

However, it is not necessary to use these tools if third-party products are preferred. Some of these choices are made available through standard SunOS tools. For example, the Network Information Service (NIS+) has an LDAP gateway that can be used to provide data to the Directory Server. This approach may be more useful for organizations migrating from NIS+ to LDAP, who don’t want to gamble their existing organizational data on newer products. As another example, a Kerberos-based authentication and ticketing system may be preferred for managing resource authorization. A number of commercial and freeware implementations are available.


Sun provides two versions of the SunOS operating system: the SPARC platform, designed to work with all Scalable Processor Architecture (SPARC) systems, and the Intel platform, designed to work with x86 platforms. SunOS provides all the underlying services designed to support all other layers in ONE. These services include:

  • A kernel, designed to support multiuser, multithreaded applications, conforming to POSIX and Unix standards

  • A set of device drivers that support many common hardware devices on the SPARC or Intel platform

  • A selection of user shells, which allow multiple applications to be launched and managed using a simple programming language

  • An industry-standard GUI, the Common Desktop Environment (CDE), which is based on X11

  • All commonly used networking services based on TCP/IP, including RPC and NFS

In addition to these features provided across platforms, there are some platform-specific characteristics that may benefit different categories of users:

  • The SPARC platform supports up to 128 CPUs. The Intel platform supports a maximum of 8 CPUs. The SPARC platform supports 64-bit CPUs. The Intel platform supports only 32-bit CPUs.

  • The Intel platform can execute Linux applications by using the lxrun package. The SPARC platform cannot execute Linux binaries.

Clearly, the decision to use SPARC or Intel depends on the specific requirements for the system concerned. It’s important to note that the SPARC platform cannot execute Intel platform binaries, and vice versa.

Solaris Releases

Apart from major changes that occurred to the SunOS platform between releases 4.x and 5.x, which concerned conversion of many services from BSD to System V, the underlying platform has remained consistent. For example, shell scripts that were written 10 years ago still operate as expected, and applications that have been written for an earlier operating system release often work without modification on the new release. Stability may be seen as boring and unexciting by the feature-bloat crowd, but in projects where timelines are often 10 years or longer, factoring in an unknown number of operating system changes along the way entails a high level of risk. Appreciating that the foundation of your e-commerce system will still be stable in 10 years is very reassuring for managers and company directors, as well as developers.

Solaris has introduced many new features over the years, but these have typically been introduced as extra levels of service, rather than a complete change in platform every few weeks. One of the problems with evolving operating systems such as Linux is that there can be a large number of incompatibilities between different minor releases of the kernel that can lead to unexpected failure. A kernel upgrade that introduces a new feature may well interfere with, or invalidate, an existing feature used elsewhere. Stability is essential when, as we’ve seen in Figure 1-1, your entire e-commerce strategy relies upon the operating system.

Some of the new features included with Solaris 8, which were not present in previous releases, are:

Automatic disaster recovery
Kernel-level packet filtering
C2 security compliance
Online patching
Filesystem snapshots
Oracle 8i support
Full moon clustering
Role-based access control (RBAC)
iPlanet suite
Smart cards
IPSec and IPv6
Unix 98 compliance
Kerberos 5 (upgraded from Kerberos 4)

One confusing aspect of Solaris is the naming convention adopted for the operating environment and the operating system. Table 1-1 shows the release numbers adopted for the most commonly used releases. Note that the Solaris naming convention was used only after the first releases of Solaris 2.

Table 1-1. Solaris and SunOS version numbering conventions

SunOS version

Solaris version

















Solaris Resources

One of the best features of the SunOS operating system is the wealth of high-quality system and user documentation that is supplied. Manpages are available online for shell-based consultation, while the following HTML and PDF manuals are available through the AnswerBook:

Binary compatibility guide
Power management user guide
CDE user guide
64-bit developer’s guide
CDE transition guide
Source compatibility guide
Device drivers guide
SPARC assembly language guide
Internationalization guide
JumpStart guide
SunShield security guide
Mail server guide
System administration guides
Naming services guide
TCP/IP guide
NFS administration guide
Troubleshooting guides
NIS+ guide
WebNFS developer’s guide
OpenWindows user guide

An up-to-date list of Solaris resources is always available from http://www.cassowary.net/solaris/.

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