A Quantum of Solaris
By Josh Simons on Dec 10, 2008
We emitted our latest wad of Solaris goodness today with the official release of OpenSolaris 2008.11. Lest you think engineering used a partially undenary nomenclature for the release name, rest assured the bits were in fact done and ready to go in November. The official announcement was delayed slightly due to other proximate product announcements.
I've been running 2008.11 for several weeks, having taken part in the internal testing cycles at Sun. I found and reported several mostly minor problems, but have generally found the 2008.11 experience to be quite good. The Live CD boot and install to disk all worked smoothly within VirtualBox, our free desktop virtualization product, on my MacBook Pro. With VirtualBox extensions installed, I can use 2008.11 in fullscreen mode and with mouse integration enabled.
While my primary interest in OpenSolaris is as a substrate on which we are building a full, integrated HPC software stack I can't help but note a few generally cool things about this release.
First is Time Slider. Yes, okay, Apple did it first with Time Machine. But try THIS with Time Machine: I turned on Time Slider and then immediately deleted a file from my Desktop without first doing any kind of back up. I then recovered the file using the TS slider on a File Browser window. This works because Time Slider is built on top of ZFS, which uses copy-on-write for safety and which is also used to implement an immediate snapshot facility. I was able to recover my file because when it was deleted (meaning "when the metadata representing the directory in which the file was located was changed"), the metadata was copied, modified and then written. But with snapshots enabled by Time Slider, the old metadata is retained as well, making it possible to slide back in time and recover deleted or altered files by revisiting the state of the file system at any earlier time. Nifty.
My second pick is perhaps somewhat esoteric, but I thought it was cool: managing boot environments with OpenSolaris. I think much of this was available in 2008.05, but it is new to me, so I've included it. In any case, managing multiple boot environments has been completely demystified as you can see in this article. Yet another admin burden removed through use of ZFS. For full documentation on boot environments, go here.
We've also made significant progress supporting Suspend/Resume, which is frankly an absolute requirement for any bare-metal OS one might run on a laptop. For me it isn't so important because I run OpenSolaris as a guest OS in VirtualBox. For those doing bare metal installations, this page details the requirements and limitations of the current Suspend/Resume support in 2008.11.
Putting my HPC hat back on for this last item, I note that a prototype release of the Automated Installer (AI) Project has been included in 2008.11. AI is basically the Jumpstart replacement for OpenSolaris--the mechanism that will be used to install OpenSolaris onto servers, including large numbers of servers hence my interest from an HPC perspective. For more information on AI, check out the design documents or, better, install the SUNWinstalladm-tools package using the Package Manager and then read the installadm man page. Full installation details are here. AI is still a work in process so feel free to pitch in if this area interests you: all of the action happens on the Caiman mailing list, which you can subscribe to here.