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Solaris 11.2 proves to be a cloud-worthy Oracle OS

Oracle's Solaris 11.2 includes cloud-ready features such as a complete OpenStack distribution, kernel zones, Unified Archives and Elastic Virtual Switch.

When Oracle released Solaris 11, the company hawked its operating system as the first OS built for the cloud. Oracle continued its cloud-centric pitch with the release of Solaris 11.2. Yet such pronouncements tell us little about what makes Solaris so cloud worthy. Fortunately, we don't have to look far. Solaris 11.2 includes four important technologies that can be instrumental in an effective cloud implementation: OpenStack, kernel zones, Unified Archives (UA) and Elastic Virtual Switch (EVS).

Solaris 11.2 and OpenStack distribution

OpenStack is a set of open source software tools for building and managing cloud computing platforms, both public and private. Rackspace and NASA launched the OpenStack project in 2010, and since then the software has gained widespread industry support.

With OpenStack, organizations can implement cloud technology that contains large pools of compute, storage and networking services. A complete OpenStack distribution includes the following nine core components:

  • Nova: Primary computing engine for deploying and managing virtual machines (VMs) and their related components.
  • Swift: Storage system for objects and files based on unique identifiers, rather than the traditional folder hierarchy.
  • Cinder: Block storage that provides access to files similar to a computer's disk drive.
  • Neutron: Networking services that facilitate communications between OpenStack components.
  • Horizon: Administration dashboard (and only graphical interface) that provides access to the various OpenStack components.
  • Keystone: OpenStack identity services, which map users and their permissions to the individual cloud services.
  • Glance: Image services for managing virtual copies of hard disks.
  • Ceilometer: Telemetry services that support billing processes for customer usage.
  • Heat: Orchestration component for storing a cloud solution's resource definitions.

Solaris 11.2 includes a complete OpenStack distribution that is integrated into its core technologies, including Solaris zones, EVS and the Solaris ZFS file system. The OpenStack integration makes it possible for Solaris to leverage the platform's capabilities in conjunction with Oracle's own advances in such areas as security, high availability and virtual machine provisioning. Although OpenStack can require additional CPU, memory and disk resources, it has no special system requirements outside of those specified for Solaris as a whole.

Kernel zones more isolated and independent

Introduced in Solaris 10, Solaris zones provide a way to create virtual OS environments within a single Solaris instance. Solaris 10 supports two types of zones: global and non-global. The global zone is the system's default OS and exists even if no other zones have been created. The global zone controls all processes on the host system. Non-global zones exist within the global one. A virtual platform isolates them from the physical hardware and from other zones.

Solaris 11.2 introduced kernel zones, which are more isolated and independent than the earlier non-global zones. A kernel zone does not share the host kernel and is tightly integrated with the ZFS file system. Each kernel zone supports its own virtual network interface card and maintains its own TCP/IP stack, making it possible to manage the zone's network configuration from within the zone itself.

A kernel zone's structural and administrative content is independent from the global zone. As a result, the kernel zone instance can be upgraded and patched independently of the global zone. Each kernel zone maintains state information within its own bootable device. The information includes host data such as zone usage and suspend operations. Kernel zones also support dedicated private storage and direct device driver installation.

Unified Archives provides native file archive type

Oracle introduced the UA technology in Solaris 11.2, providing a native archive file type to replace Flash Archives, the default archive system in Solaris 10. The UA technology makes it possible to clone application environments across virtualized and bare-metal servers.

An administrator can create a UA archive from a deployed Solaris instance. The archive can include any instances on the Solaris system, including global, non-global and kernel zones. If a system contains multiple zones, the zones can be bundled into a single archive or each separated into its own archive.

The UA technology can be used to clone Solaris instances across a cloud environment or to create backups for disaster recovery. A recovery archive contains the entire boot environments for all included instances. A clone archive is based on a system's active boot environments and does not include system configuration information or data such as passwords or secure shell keys.

To deploy a UA archive, you can use the Solaris Automated Installer, UA bootable media or utilities available to Solaris zones. In addition, you can deploy an archived instance across virtual boundaries. For example, you can install a zone archive on a bare-metal server, or install a bare-metal archive in a zone. If an archive contains multiple instances, you can deploy them independently of one another.

Elastic Virtual Switch extends virtualization capabilities

The network virtualization capabilities built into Solaris make it possible for administrators to manage virtual switches across the physical servers in a data center. The virtual switches facilitate communication between the VMs. Before Solaris 11.2, administrators could manage virtual switches only indirectly through data links.

Solaris 11.2 introduced Elastic Virtual Switch, a framework for extending these virtualization capabilities so administrators can manage the virtual switches as a single switch that spans multiple compute nodes. EVS brings the virtual switches under one umbrella, helping to ease the pain of managing VMs across a large cloud environment. EVS also provides an integration point into the OpenStack Neutron networking services, making it easier to perform tasks such as provisioning networks or maintaining service-level agreements.

At the heart of EVS is the controller, a centralized set of tools for configuring and administering the virtual switches and their associated resources. A single physical machine can serve as a controller for the entire data center, offering a single point of control for VMs across the cloud environment.

OpenStack, kernel zones, UA and EVS provide plenty of reasons for taking Solaris 11.2 seriously as a cloud platform. Plus, the OS supports features such as software-defined networking, integrated compliance monitoring and reporting, and delegated access control management. In addition, Solaris 11.2 provides built-in encryption technologies that can use hardware-assisted encryption automatically when available. Indeed, Solaris 11.2 provides plenty of features to make it a cloud-worthy platform.

Next Steps

Read a preview of Oracle Solaris 11.2 Cloud OS with OpenStack

Learn how Oracle is integrating Oracle Solaris 11.2 with the OpenDaylight project

Layoffs suggest Oracle may be phasing out Solaris

Dig Deeper on Oracle operating systems (Solaris, Open Solaris, Unbreakable Linux)