OpenWorld attendees learn best practices for upgrading Oracle Solaris

Get expert tips and advice for making sure the switch to Oracle Solaris 11 goes as smoothly as possible, compiled from a session at OpenWorld 2013.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Many things have changed since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems. Just ask Vikas Gaur, a longtime Solaris operating system user and a Unix engineer at GE Capital, the financial services arm of General Electric Corp.

For starters, Gaur used to be able to access free Solaris add-ons from the SunSolve website. But today SunSolve is gone -- and so are many of the freebies. Oracle, which introduced Solaris 11, the latest version of the Unix-based operating system, in 2011, has also made changes to the Solaris patching cycle to align it more closely with other Oracle products.

ZFS boot environments, coupled with IPS, is like Live Upgrade on steroids. I'm not talking the slow, big, scary Arnold Schwarzenegger type of steroids. I'm talking the lean, mean, sleek Lance Armstrong type of steroids.

Colin Seymour,
principal engineer, Oracle

"I think it will really take some more time for [Sun] customers to get used to it," Gaur said, right after attending a session on best practices for maintaining and upgrading Oracle Solaris at the Oracle OpenWorld conference. "It's a little bit difficult, but we have to adjust."

The GE Capital data center currently runs on Solaris 10, but Gaur knows the time to migrate to Solaris 11 is coming. The company plans to buy new hardware before beginning the upgrade process.

While change can be tough -- especially when it means developing a relationship with a software vendor -- Gaur was relieved to see several sessions at OpenWorld dedicated to Solaris users. It gave him hope that Oracle is committed to the operating system for the long term.

"I thought that maybe Solaris was going to get killed," he said, "but it looks like that is not the case now."

Gaur was just one of a roomful of Solaris professionals who gathered to learn about the best ways to support, maintain and upgrade Solaris -- and the Oracle representative who led the session had plenty of advice to offer.

Get to know the My Oracle Support site

There are two main reasons why Solaris professionals initiate service requests with Oracle these days, according to conference speaker Colin Seymour, a principal engineer on Oracle's Solaris and Network team.

The first is that users just now making the move from Solaris 10 to Solaris 11 are unfamiliar with Solaris 11's new packaging system and update processes. The second reason is that Solaris users are unfamiliar with My Oracle Support, Oracle's primary support website and home to many documents that administrators can access in an effort to help themselves.

My Oracle Support boasts more than 580,000 members and 250 online communities where like-minded IT professionals can go for peer support and answers to tough questions, Seymour explained. Nine of the communities are devoted specifically to Solaris and cover topics such as file systems and disk management, performance, installation, and virtual networking, among others. The site also offers a knowledge base with about 1 million articles -- including more than 100,000 Sun support documents and bug reports -- and access to all Solaris product documentation.

Users of My Oracle Support have access to all Solaris patches and recommended patch sets, as well as two blogs that are regularly updated with information about Solaris patching and lifecycle management best practices. The site is home to the Sun System Handbook and Oracle's Service Request (SR) management systems, which admins can use to create, update and review the history of support requests. Additionally, a newly added feature of the SR system allows admins to track the history of Solaris bugs.

Finally, My Oracle Support users can go to landing pages with loads of resources devoted to key Solaris features, such as the new Image Packaging System (IPS), Solaris Zones, the Zettabyte File System (ZFS), booting functions and security tools.

Best practices for migrating from Solaris 10 to Solaris 11

The new IPS in Solaris 11 is a framework that facilitates installation, upgrades and other lifecycle management functions. But it's considerably different from the legacy SVR4 packaging mechanism used in Solaris 10, and it's the subject of many support calls, according to Seymour. That's why administrators should learn all about IPS before attempting a migration from Solaris 10 to Solaris 11.

The best way to move to Solaris 11 is to do a side-by-side installation, Seymour explained. That means installing Solaris 11 while still keeping the production copy of Solaris 10 running. Once Solaris 11 is up and running, it's time to begin migrating applications to the new environment.

"If, however, you've still got some applications that haven't been certified yet for Solaris 11, you can migrate your entire Solaris 10 system into a branded zone on Solaris 11," Seymour said. He added that organizations can also migrate Solaris 10 zones to Solaris 10 branded zones on Solaris 11.

Administrators that use the physical-to-virtual migration method to move the Solaris 10 system to a Solaris 10 zone can use the same approach to move the Solaris 10 zone to a Solaris 10 branded zone.

More on Oracle Solaris

Learn about the fate of Solaris on X86

Read the Whatis definition of Solaris

"The only slight exception is that it's a one-way process," Seymour continued. "Once you migrate to the Solaris 10 zone from a Solaris 10 system, [and then to the] Solaris 11 branded zone, you can't go back."

Oracle Solaris admins should also get to know how ZFS boot environments work because they significantly reduce risk during upgrades, according to Seymour. They are also quick, reliable, space-efficient and easy to use. Admins that have used Live Upgrade in the past will find ZFS boot environments somewhat familiar.

"ZFS boot environments, coupled with IPS, is like Live Upgrade on steroids," he said. "I'm not talking the slow, big, scary Arnold Schwarzenegger type of steroids. I'm talking the lean, mean, sleek Lance Armstrong type of steroids."

Keeping Solaris 11 systems up to date

Admins have several options for keeping Solaris 11 properly updated. But Seymour recommends getting the updates directly from Oracle's own repository servers. Users must first register on Oracle's site to gain access.

"One of the big benefits of using the Oracle servers is that it's one less thing for you to maintain," he said. "You don't have to have a machine dedicated to it or a zone dedicated to it. It will always be up to date, and all revisions to Solaris 11 will be available for you automatically."

Next Steps

Catch up on the latest Oracle advice

Dig Deeper on Oracle operating system