Book Review: “Oracle Solaris 11: First Look”

I saw a tweet this weekend from Packt Publishing (@packtpub) offering their entire catalog of ebooks for $5 apiece until Friday, January 3, 2014, so I decided to check out their selection.

One of the books I found there was Oracle Solaris 11: First Look by long-time Solaris admin Phil Brown, whose website bolthole.com was a staple of the Solaris x86 mailing list a decade ago, and whose advocacy of Solaris x86 helped save it from permanent cancellation. I first met Phil when we were undergrads at U. C. Berkeley, where we served as sysadmin staff on the student-run cluster of Unix systems together, and we’ve kept in touch via the Solaris & OpenSolaris communities we both found ourselves in later.

Since it was only $5, I picked it up to see if it was worth recommending to others. When not on sale, the ebook is only $15, since it’s not a large book - the PDF is 168 pages, the epub on my iPad was 199 pages - and in both forms that includes an index of about 25 pages. That also made it a quick enough read that I could get through in an afternoon, skimming over the examples and reference materials.

This book is intended to get existing Solaris admins up to speed quickly on Solaris 11 - it’s not going to introduce the basics of system administration, but will tell you what commands to run now. If you don’t know what routers, subnets, or tunnels are, you probably want a more introductory book - if you know what they are, and need to know what to run instead of ifconfig or editing /etc/hostname.e1000g0 to configure them on Solaris 11, this book will help.

Phil’s biases as a long time server admin are obvious in some sections, such as the introduction to NWAM, the Network AutoMagic feature, which he suggests “from a server sysadmin perspective, it might perhaps be better named "Never Wake A Monster"” though he admits on a laptop it can be useful to adjust to networks in different locations. There’s also a few areas where you can tell the book was written before Solaris 11.1 was out and didn’t get updated for the latest changes.

As the author of the classic pkg-get tool for installing Solaris SVR4 packages from network repositories, he has plenty to say about the new IPS packaging system in Solaris 11 as well, providing some useful tips on finding packages and setting up local repositories, though he does discourage use of many of the more advanced pkg subcommands that can help admins take more control over exactly what gets installed and updated on their systems.

Overall it’s a decent aide, and something I may refer to in the future, as I don’t do system administration that often these days, and often need a refresher, especially when old habits no longer work. It’s more detailed in many sections that the official Transitioning From Oracle Solaris 10 to Oracle Solaris 11.1 manual, which mainly points off to the other Solaris 11 manuals for details; but concentrated only on the areas a typical system administrator will be configuring, not developer or end-user visible changes. I’d recommend it to experienced admins looking for a hands on guide for dealing with Solaris 11 systems, but it’s not the right level for those trying to plan a migration or learn Solaris administration from scratch.

As always, the above is solely my personal opinion, not an official Oracle corporate position or endorsement.

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Engineer working on Oracle Solaris and with the X.Org open source community.

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