At What Point Does This Get Ridiculous?

I'll start with the punchline. Below is a picture of Mac OSX hosting a Solaris virtual machine, which itself has a Linux zone running on it.

I finally got myself a Mac Mini. I've been planning to buy one since Apple released the first x86-based models. Since I have no use for a computer that can't run Solaris, I had to wait for a few months. For me, the tipping point was not Apple's recent Boot Camp release, even though that does allow you to boot Solaris on a Mac. Instead, it was the announcement of an OS virtualization environment running on MacOSX. I assumed it was just a matter of time before VMware or Microsoft ported their virtualization tools, but some company I had never heard of beat them to it: Parallels.

The Parallels VM is much less featureful than VMware, but it is also much lighter weight. For my simple usage scenario, I really don't need most the bells and whistles VMware provides, so Parallels is fine.

I was able to get S10 FCS installed and running on a Parallels VM on the second try. It would have worked on the first try, but I got fed up with the DVD performance and killed the install. I was then able to Liveupgrade the system to BrandZ using the BrandZ build 35 DVD image.

Now the bad news. Parallels still has quite a way to go before it is ready for prime time - even for casual home use.

There is one level-0 issue that is a complete showstopper for anybody who plans to run Solaris (or any Unix): the '\\' and '|' keys don't work. I guess Parallels doesn't do any testing of Unix-based systems at all, or this wouldn't have made it out the door.

Some other issues that I have run into so far

  • When the Mac OS sleeps, it panics if Parallels is running. The kernel stack shows that it is running in the Parallels' hypervisor, so this doesn't seem like something you can pin on Apple.
  • Adding a second drive leads to PCI timeouts. It doesn't matter which PCI bus it's on or how many busses you have. Since you can't add more disk space, make sure you plan ahead.
  • You can't boot from a Solaris Express CD. It does boot an S10 FCS CD, so this is probably something grub related. Having said that, I was able to Liveupgrade to a grub-based build successfully, so it's obvious that grub isn't DOA.
  • Parllels doesn't support full-screen mode yet.
  • The mouse tracking is a little bit twitchy. I have the same issue with VMware on a Linux system. It seems to be a little better in full-screen mode on VMware, so maybe there is some hope that this will get better when Parallels supports full-screen.
  • Solaris doesn't support the network device Parallels pretends to provide. Fortunately, there is a Solaris driver for the device available from the ever-reliable Masayuki Murayama.
  • When installing, the DVD performance was terrible - although I can't say whether that is an issue with the Mac or with Parallels. Either way, it was faster for me to stop the install half-way through, rip the DVD to an ISO image, and restart the install with the ISO in place of the physical DVD.
  • When connecting to Sun from my Solaris VM at home, the performance seems a little bit sluggish. I suspect this is due to the Parallels network virtualization, but that is purely a guess. I haven't done anything to investigate this yet. It's also possible that there is something in our IPSEC software that suffers in a virtualization environment.
  • Liveupgrade is very slow. It took nearly 3 hours to liveupgrade from S10 FCS to Brandz35. I was upgrading from a Solaris install image on an NFS server, so this could easily be another manifestation of network performance issues. I really need to take some measurements...
  • If you have two VMs running simultaneously, shutting down or rebooting one will cause the other to die.

I've submitted a few of these problems to Parallels, but their response doesn't fill me with confidence:

             Hello Nils!
             Thank you for your interest in Parallels Workstation.

             We appreciate your feedback.

We'll see how this product improves over the coming months. Since VMware is allegedly planning a Mac OSX release, Parallels has their work cut out for them.


Parallels introduced their latest Beta 4 product today, April 18. It appears to address a number of the issues pointed out in this blog. According to Parallels, Beta 4 includes: Improvements and Fixes in Beta4:
  • Introduced full screen mode
  • Introduced dual-monitor support
  • Improved real CD/DVD support
  • Improved, easier to use interface
  • Better sound support, including a fix for Windows 2000 guest OS
  • Networking kernel panics resolved
  • Bridged networking issues fixed
  • WiFi networking issues fixed
  • Fixed some of the issues encountered when entering "Sleep" mode when a VM is running
  • Many other minor bug fixes

Posted by Mark Thacker on April 18, 2006 at 08:47 AM GMT-05:00 #

Demented!!!! Oh yea and real cool too :) It is always interesting to see what virtualization approaches others are taking. It is interesting to see Linux now starting a zones type project for lightweight shared kernel virtual machine.

Posted by Tim on April 18, 2006 at 08:55 AM GMT-05:00 #

Well done! There are a surprising number of us moving this way (my new Shiney is a 20" iMac Duo).

In answer to some of your points, I installed S10U1, so Grub isn't the cause of the Nevada/Express issues, it seems to be more related to how it talks to the BIOS/ACPI? The network driver you need is supplied on the CD image of tools Parallels supplies as part of the install (a case of RTFM ;O). And many of the other issues you had are fixed by Beta4 - I've pre-paid for it now, to get the $10 discount.

Finally, the \\| key - try:

xmodmap -e keycode 94 = backslash bar

in your X environment... =O)


Posted by Mark R. Bowyer on April 18, 2006 at 11:14 PM GMT-05:00 #

I will be trying the new beta later today, and will update the post to indicate which bugs have actually been fixed.

On the network driver - I don't remember seeing a CD image, but maybe I just deleted the .dmg too quickly. Nice tip, and I will look for that in the beta.

Finally, on the \\| bug: nice one. I hit my breaking point when I was in console mode, trying to sort out a failing SMF service issue that prevented dtlogin from starting. Your workaround/fix will certainly make typical use possible, but it wouldn't have helped in that particular case. If this is fixed in the new beta, so much the better.

Thanks all.

Posted by NilsN on April 19, 2006 at 03:45 AM GMT-05:00 #

The CD image is stashed in /Library/Parallels/Tools/. It's a little annoying that the manual doesn't tell you to look there.

Posted by Iain Bason on April 19, 2006 at 07:11 AM GMT-05:00 #

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