Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

Hooray! Acrobat Reader for [Open]Solaris x86

Today truly marks a milestone in the history of Solaris for the x86/x64 platform.  One of the most ubiquitous applications, Adobe Reader (notably Acrobat), is now available on [Open]Solaris for both Sparc and x86.

It's been a long time coming, one argument for the lack of Solaris x86 support till now was that [Open]Solaris didn't have the critical mass.  That's a hard one to swallow for the following reasons:

  • There's been a Solaris Sparc version for a long time.  Solaris x86 downloads outnumber Sparc downloads by a large factor.
  • Versions for AIX and HP-UX, which have a significantly smaller installed base, are available.  Maybe IBM and HP payed a lot of money for this?
  • Until recently there were versions even for the likes of OS/2 and UnixWare.

Perhaps open source alternatives are becoming good enough to pose a threat?  Whatever the reason, we welcome the arrival of Acrobat Reader and Adobe's change of heart.

You can get your copy here.

Happy Downloading!

Wednesday Jan 14, 2009

Overhead in Increasing the Solaris System Clock Rate

In a previous entry entitled Real-Time Java and High Resolution Timers, we discussed how Sun's Java Real-Time System requires access to timers with a resolution greater than the default 10ms to do anything really interesting.   It was also stated that most modern processors have an APIC or Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller which supports much finer-grained clock tick rates.

Unfortunately there are many instances where a system does indeed contain an APIC, but it is not exposed by the BIOS.  Furthermore, we've found that some of the embedded, low-power x86-based processors do not contain an APIC at all.  For an example, take a look at the AMD Geode LX 800 based fit-PC Slim.

So if you wanted to utilize higher resolution timers for this class of system, you'd have to resort to alternative methods.  Solaris and OpenSolaris provide two /etc/system parameters called hires_tick and hires_hz to facilitate increasing your default system clock tick.  By adding the following line to /etc/system, you'll increase the system clock tick rate from the default of 100 per second to 1,000 per second, effectively changing the clock resolution from 10ms to 1ms.

   set hires_tick=1

If you want to further increase the clock resolution, you can do so via the hires_hz system tunable parameter.  Although formally unsupported, it does work.   In order to, for example, increase the clock tick rate to 10,000, add this to /etc/system:

    set hires_tick=1
    set hires_hz=10000

To achieve the desired effect above, you must include both the hires_tick assignment in addition to setting the hires_hz parameter.

These modifications do not come without side-effects, and depending upon the hardware in question and the granularity of the desired timer resolution, they could be significant.  In short, it takes additional CPU cycles to field all those timer interrupts.  So I thought it'd be interesting to see what effect changing the clock tick rate had on two separate systems.   Here they are:

 System  fit-PC Slim
 Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 (Revision F)
 CPU  AMD Geode LX 800 (500 Mhz)
 Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 1.60GHz
 OpenSolaris Version
 snv_98  snv_101b

The measuring tool used for this simple experiment is vmstat(1m).  Solaris aficionados will likely point out that there are much more accurate alternatives, but I think vmstat(1m) gives a decent feel for what's going on without having to expend a whole lot of extra energy.  In particular we'll look at the following fields returned by issuing a 'vmstat 5', and picking one of the interim samples:

  • in - interrupts per second
  • us - percentage usage of CPU time in user space
  • sy - percentage usage of CPU time in system space
  • id - percentage usage of CPU time idling

The sum of (us + sy + id) should approximate 100%.  The table below shows sample vmstat output on various clock tick settings for our two hardware platforms.

Clock tics/sec
 100
 1000  10000  100000
/etc/system settings
 none (default)
 set hires_tick=1
set hires_tick=1
set hires_hz=10000
set hires_tick=1
set hires_hz=100000
vmstat(5) sample fit-PC
 in: 201
 us: 0
 sy: 1
 id: 99
 in: 2001
 us: 0
 sy: 5
 id: 95
 in: 19831
 us: 0
 sy: 43
 id: 57 
n/a

vmstat(5) sample CF-30

 in: 471
 us: 0
 sy: 0
 id: 99
 in: 2278
 us: 0
 sy: 1
 id: 99
 in: 20299
 us: 0
 sy: 5
 id: 95
 in: 200307
 us: 0
 sy: 21
 id: 79

Notes/Conclusions:

  • The vmstat(5) was let run for about a minute.  The output above shows one of the typical 5 second samples.  The other 5 second samples are almost identical.
  • The user (us) CPU time numbers give us a reasonable idea that these systems were predominantly in an idle state when being sampled.
  • The number of interrupts serviced per second is directly proportional to the clock tick rate.
  • And of course, the larger the number of interrupts, the more system CPU time is required.
  • The amount of overhead taken up by increasing the clock rate is a function of system capability.  The CF-30 not only has a much faster processor, it also has two cores to share the interrupt load.  As such it could accommodate a much higher clock tick rate.  For the fit-PC, performance is impacted profoundly even at modest clock tick rates.

Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

OpenSolaris on the Smallest System Yet?

One of my compadres forwarded me this link from CompuLab, an Israeli company which has created this real small, very energy efficient PC.  It may just be the smallest full-featured system to date. 

I'm a sucker for these types of things, and thought it would be interesting to get a reduced footprint version of OpenSolaris up and running on it.  Haven't gotten around to playing with wi-fi, or for that matter the graphics (as the reduced footprint version of OpenSolaris has no windowing system), but every indication points to a system that doesn't require any magic incantations to get OpenSolaris up and running.  Here are some of the specs

CPU: AMD Geode LX800 500MHz     
Chipset: AMD CS5536
Display: Integrated Geode LX display controller up to 1920x1440  
Memory: 512MB DDR 333MHz soldered on-board
Hard disk: 2.5” IDE 60GB
Ports:
 RJ45 Ethernet port 100Mbps
 WLAN 802.11b/g 54Mbps
 3 x USB 2.0 HiSpeed 480Mbps
 mini RS-232 (cable available from CompuLab)
 VGA DB15
 Stereo line-out audio (headphones)
 Stereo line-in audio / Mic


The system has a serial port, and upon request, CompuLab will provide the required custom serial cable.  By instructing GRUB to redirect the console to the serial port, you can connect the serial cable to another system and communicate directly with the console.  To get a rough idea of how to accomplish this, check here.  The screenshots below show that from an OpenSolaris terminal window, you can use the tip(1) command to accomplish this.

So the question is, how minimal is this configuration?  Issuing `ps -ef' shows that only 14 processes are currently running, of which I'm sure there's an opportunity to eliminate one or two if need be.

To give you an idea of how much RAM is currently consumed, here's what issuing the 'memstat' macro under mdb(1m) yields:

Who says Solaris can't fit in small places?

Wednesday Jul 23, 2008

Fast Booting Solaris

A veteran Java ONE keynote presenter, Perrone Robotics has developed some real interesting technologies which take the concept of using autonomous (i.e. unmanned) vehicles to a whole new level.  One of their key ingredients is the MAX software platform which utilizes common commercially available components to enable Perrone to very quickly and cost-effectively retrofit nearly any vehicle in short order.


The MAX robotics platform runs on a (roughly 4" x 6") low-power PC board atop Solaris and Sun's Java Real-Time System (Java RTS).  This combination gives Perrone the ability to leverage the huge Java development community, and assures that their critical software components behave in a predictable and deterministic fashion.

During the Java ONE 2007 conference, I was speaking with Paul Perrone about the notion of creating a minimized version of Solaris over which his platform might run.  The helicopter pictured above, boots from a relatively small (4-8Gb)  IDE flash drive, where standard Solaris takes up a substantial chunk.  It leaves them precious little space to collect valuable information like telemetry or terrain data.  Paul asked to revist this idea for a future project.  That's where we left off.

Not that we've ignored them since, but it wasn't until a year later that small Solaris reared its head again.  In addition to saving space, their main interest in this environment was in seeing how much faster Solaris might boot up.  The ability to be fully functional from power-up in as short a time as possible is of critical importance.

So before investigating what advantages there might be, let's provide some background information:

Hardware

Two separate systems were used, and for argument's sake, represent two ends of the x86 compute spectrum. 


Embedded Profile
Modern Profile 
System iGologic i84810
Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 (Rev. F)
CPU 1GHz Celeron M
Core 2 Duo L7500 1.60GHz
RAM 512MB 1GB
Disk 4GB Flash IDE Drive
Solid State SATA Drive

Operating Systems

Minimal configurations were created for Solaris 10 08/07 (Update 4) and OpenSolaris Nevada build 93.  These configurations boot entirely into RAM and consume less than 100MB ramdisk space.  With a little more effort they can be may significantly smaller.  The original blog post describing the environment is here.   You can download the framework for these hardware/OS combinations here, and can get a feel for the build environment by taking a look at this README.

Definitions

Within the context of this discussion, here are the key terms along with their meanings.

Total Boot Time: This is the time it takes from power-up till a user is prompted to log in.  Typically for a full Solaris installation, the windowing system must first start up and present the user with a login screen.  In a minimal Solaris environment, there is no windowing system.  Instead, the total boot time is defined as the time it takes from power-up till a user is prompted with the console login: prompt.

POST Time: POST or Power On Self Test is the time taken by the system at pre-boot to handle things like diagnostics,  BIOS and device initialization.  For this discussion, we'll define POST time as the time it takes from power-up until the user is presented with a GRUB boot menu.  We call out this segment of the total time because in many cases we are at the mercy of the PC/BIOS manufacturer and can't overly influence how quickly or slowly this proceeds.

Solaris Boot Time: The time it takes from being presented with a GRUB boot menu till a Solaris user is prompted to log in.  Again, depending upon whether a windowing system is configured or not, this may represent the time it takes to be prompted with a login screen or console login: prompt respectively.  This represents the segment of time that we can influence.

We can conclude from these definitions that:

   Total Boot Time = POST Time + Solaris Boot Time

Results

Embedded Profile: iGoLogic i84810 system 

OS
Post Time
Solaris Boot Time
Total Boot Time
 Solaris 10 08/07
13 sec
26 sec
39 sec
 OpenSolaris Nevada Build 93
13 sec
18 sec
31 sec 

Modern Profile: Panasonic Toughbook CF-30

OS POST Time
Solaris Boot Time
 Total Boot Time
 Solaris 10 08/07
 6 sec
 18 sec
 24 sec
 OpenSolaris Nevada Build 93
 6 sec
 9 sec
 15 sec

Conclusions/Notes

1. These times were taken by hand with the stopwatch feature on my Timex.  If anything, the times might be slightly shorter than actually recorded as there is a human delay in reacting to seeing the necessary prompts.  I ran the tests several times, and the same numbers consistently appear.

2. The version of the OS appears to matter a lot, as OpenSolaris nvx_93 boots up nearly twice as fast as Solaris 10 U4 on the same hardware.

3. The type of I/O device subsystem seems to be a big factor too.  For example, by switching out the IDE Flash Drive with a 5400 RPM IDE hard disk, i84810 total boot time decreased by about 6 seconds for both Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris. 

4. The minimal Solaris environment is currently only available in 32-bit mode.

5. With relative ease, Solaris can be configured to boot in less that 10 seconds on modern x86 hardware.  My unofficial record stands at 9 seconds (or slightly less).   No doubt it could boot faster on more robust hardware (eliminating POST time).  Any takers?

About

Jim Connors

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