If you can't wait to get your hands on Solaris 11 when Oracle makes it available next year — like Oracle itself can't wait in its Exadata and Exalogic clustered systems — then you'll be happy to know that Oracle has started shipping Solaris 11 Express.
The company may have let the OpenSolaris project die of neglect, but Oracle has kept its word that it would get a Solaris 11 Express version out the door before the end of this year to give developers and sysadmins a chance to put the future Solaris 11 through its paces before its official launch next year.
As previously reported, Solaris 11 (in both its current Express and future plain-vanilla version) is comprised of over 2,700 different software packages with more than 400 features added to the operating system. Sun says it has spent 20 million person-hours on developing Solaris 11 and over 60 million hours of testing to make the software commercial-grade.
Given that Oracle is putting Solaris 11 Express in its latest clustered systems supporting database and middleware stacks, you might ask why the company didn't just go for it and put Solaris 11 out there for full consumption, and skip the whole Express bit. But Oracle seems to want to show off with the Exadata and Exalogic clusters, particularly the fast reboot (in under 10 seconds instead of 10 minutes), hot patching of more software components (increasing system uptime), and performance improvements for Oracle's Fusion middleware.
Sun provided technical support for a fee with OpenSolaris, and Oracle is continuing this practice with Solaris 11 Express, offering customers support if they want to be on the bleeding edge of Unix technology.
By contrast, Red Hat does not provide support for its Fedora development release, and in fact gets miffed if you call it that — but when you don't provide support for a server operating system, then that's how you know it's a development release.
By this definition, Solaris 11 Express is not exactly a development release so much as what you might call a 1.0 release with a service pack coming sometime next year. (Argue semantics amongst yourselves.)
The new operating system is technically known as Solaris 11 Express 2010.11, and you can check out the full feature list here. Solaris 11 Express is supported on the new 16-core Sparc T3 processors and also has tunings for Intel's Xeon family of processors, which Oracle also sells in rack and blade form factors as it does its own Sparc T3s. Oracle is not offering Solaris 11 Express as a pre-installed operating system on its generic Sun Fire rack, Sun Blade blade, or Enterprise M midrange and high-end servers.
If you want to deploy Solaris 11 Express in a production environment, you have to buy a Premier Support for Operating Systems or a Premier Support for Systems support contract from Oracle. Otherwise, you can use Solaris 11 Express to develop or test your code.
Oracle is perfectly happy to support Solaris 11 Express on other vendors' iron and charge you for support contracts. Premier Support for Solaris costs $1,000 per socket per year on non-Oracle iron for machines with four or fewer processor sockets and $2,000 per socket on machines with five or more sockets.
To download the software, which you can do here, you have to agree to only use the code in testing and development or to pay Oracle for a support contract in production environments.
The current hardware compatibility list shows 512 servers being able to run Solaris 11 Express, along with 950 desktops and 2,864 laptops; 154 of Oracle's own products can run the new OS. Solaris 10, by contrast, runs on those same 154 systems from Oracle, but is only certified as being compatible on 332 desktops and 329 laptops; it is supported on a total of 598 servers, which is 17 per cent more machines.
While Oracle has correctly brought Solaris to a laser focus on systems — particularly its own and volume products from HP and Dell — clearly someone has been hard at work certifying Solaris 11 Express on desktops and laptops.
The operating system also includes a new Image Packaging System, making it easier to install, update, and remove packages from a system, as compared to Solaris 10. Another important feature of Solaris 11 Express is the ability to convert a Solaris 10 physical server into a virtual instance running inside a Solaris 10 container running atop Solaris 11. This will help legacy Solaris 10 customers gradually move to new iron and the newer operating system without having to recertify their applications on the new release.
Oracle's own Zettabyte File System is the root file system on Solaris 11 Express; UFS is no longer supported as the root file system. Oracle has done a lot of work on improving the performance of InfiniBand networking with Solaris 11, which is important for Oracle RAC clusters, and there are tons of networking virtualization and performance enhancements for Ethernet NICs and the TCP/IP stack as well. ®