posted by Tony Bourke on Mon 20th Oct 2003 06:57 UTC
IconSun has really shifted gears lately with regards to Solaris, SPARC, and x86. For many years, Sun seemed to relegate Solaris x86 to the status of red-headed stepchild, undeserving of attention, nurturing, and support. It furthered this perception when in January of 2002, Sun announced it would not release Solaris 9, the newest upcoming Solaris operating system, on the x86 platform. Solaris 9 was to be a (more lucrative) SPARC-only platform release.

NOTE: All tests were conducted by Tony Bourke. OSNews had no participation in the tests or its procedure.

However, Sun has since changed its tune by releasing Solaris 9 x86. They are now pushing Solaris for the x86 platform, in an attempt to regain market in the low and mid-level server market, as the Intel/AMD systems have been decimating SPARC sales. While this move might signal capitulation, or at least compromise, on the x86 question, they are now engaging in a full-fledged battle with Linux.

Sun's new story is that Solaris x86 is a better, safer, and more stable alternative to Linux. Sun has even gone so far as to offer a a couple of top-of-the-line Intel-based x86 systems in single and dual processor configurations. The systems currently include at no extra cost licensed Solaris 9 x86 pre-installed (no-cost up until January 4, 2004), with an option to purchase Red Hat Enterprise Linux for an additional cost.

Here is a quote from Sun executive VP Jonathon Schwartz in an eWeek article which sums up Sun's position with regards to Linux and Solaris (full article at,4149,1274623,00.asp):

Also, let me really clear about our Linux strategy. We don't have one. We don't at all. We do not believe that Linux plays a role on the server. Period. If you want to buy it, we will sell it to you, but we believe that Solaris is a better alternative, that is safer, more robust, higher quality and dramatically less expensive in purchase price.”

With this new push for Solaris x86 I decided to take a fresh look with Sun's latest, Solaris 9 x86 Platform Edition and pit it against Red Hat Linux 9 in a number of categories, including features, security, and performance.


To start off, perhaps I should give a little background on myself. I've been an avid Linux and Solaris user (on x86 and SPARC, respectively) for about 8 years now. I've used Linux since the 1.2.13 kernel (Slackware, back in the day), and Solaris since 2.4. I've used them both extensively in my personal and professional work, and I enjoy both of them for their various strengths. I don't consider myself biased toward one or the other, as both have been very good to me over the years.

While I've dabbled with Linux on Alpha and SPARC, I've primarily used it on the x86 platform. For Solaris, I've almost exclusively used it on the SPARC platform, with the exception of a brief stint with Solaris 2.6 x86 several years ago. I own several x86 systems and one Sun Ultra 5, a SPARC-based workstation.

Version Note: For those of you not familiar with Solaris, this may help with some versioning confusing (i.e. Solaris 2.6, Solaris 7).

After Solaris 2.6, Sun decided to change how it named each Solaris version. The next version was Solaris 2.7, but Sun called it simply “Solaris 7”. Solaris 8 is actually 2.8, and Solaris 9 is 2.9. They are sometimes still referred to by the old nomenclature (i.e. 2.7), especially when dealing with porting and software versioning.

A bit confused? I've still got more! Solaris versions are also sometimes referred to as SunOS, and different numbering schemes apply there as well.. SunOS was the original operating system released by Sun in 1981 and is based on BSD, where Solaris is based on SVR4 Unix (System V). The last version of SunOS was 4.1.4, which would make Solaris 2.0 (Solaris started at 2.0) SunOS 5.0. So Solaris 9 is also known as Solaris 2.9 and also known as SunOS 5.9.


To evaluate these two venerable operating systems, I used a VA Linux box I procured on eBay a year or so ago.

Processor (2) Intel Pentium IIIs at 600 MHz, 256 KB cache

Motherboard Intel L440GX+

RAM 512 MB PC133 ECC

DISK (1) 9 GB Maxtor SCSI LVD

SCSI Controller Adaptec AIC-7896 Dual Channel

Video Cirrus Logic GD 5480 2 MB RAM

It's not the most powerful box around, but it's dual processor, plenty fast, and given the cost cutting nature of the industry, it's still a very common system in terms of both power and configuration.

Red Hat Linux 9

I ran a standard install of Red Hat 9. Before testing, I applied the updates available from Red Hat's site, which among others packages, updated glibc and the kernel, bringing the system to 2.4.20-20.9smp and glibc 2.3.2-27.9.

Linux mentat 2.4.20-20.9smp #1 SMP Mon Aug 18 11:32:15 EDT 2003 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux

Solaris 9

I used a standard install of Solaris 9 x86 edition. Before testing, I installed the 9_x86_Recommended public patch cluster obtained from Sun's download page. Here is the uname -a from the system:

SunOS mentat 5.9 Generic_112234-08 i86pc i386 i86pc

I did no specific tweaking of either operating system, and except for patches, they are both running as stock installations with off the shelf-style configuration.

A Note On My Choice Of Linux Distribution

If this article gets published with a comments section, it will invariably be filled with comments such as “you fool, you should have used Slackware/SuSE/Mandrake” and “your choice in Linux distributions shows your obvious inclination towards the drowning of cute kittens”. So I'm going to quickly address my choice for Linux distributions.

I chose Red Hat 9 for the simple fact that it is a very popular distribution, and is ubiquitous in terms of corporate and personal deployment. Of course it is not the end-all be-all of Linux distributions, but it's both popular and effective, which makes it appropriate as an evaluation platform.

Besides, most of what I evaluate has more to do with Linux itself, and not the distribution. The only significant effect Red Hat has on this evaluation is the specific version of the kernel (2.4.20-20.9) and the use of RPMs (which some other Linux distributions use as well).

I'm sure that despite this little interlude, I'll still receive those flame-trolling comments. To that I say, If you have a problem with my choice in distribution, then feel free to run your own evaluation. Also, your momma is ugly. Seriously. UG-LY.

Table of contents
  1. "Background and setup"
  2. "Installation and usage"
  3. "Everyone loves benchmarks"
  4. "Conclusions"
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