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Large Scale Management - Linux vs Solaris? 113

A not-so anonymous, Anonymous Coward asks: "I work for a college that offers undergraduate computer science classes, and the school would like to add a new lab with about a hundred computers for students to use, for various class projects. After some non-trivial effort, we convinced the school to set up a Unix lab rather than a Windows one. However, we can't decide whether to go for Solaris or Linux. Regardless of the cost of hardware, I couldn't get agreed with my colleagues about the amount of efforts required to manage a hundred of Linux PCs vs. a hundred Sparc boxes. I believe that there are many Slashdot readers are actual managers for labs like this if not in large scales. What are your experiences of managing Linux PCs versus traditional Solaris boxes?"

"My detailed questions are:

1. Compared between these two different systems, how easy to maintain the software for all these machines (including re-installation, patching, and updating)? What software do you use to make these management jobs easier?

2. Are there any fundamental differences between managing a large group of linux PCs and managing a large group of Solaris boxes?"

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Large Scale Management - Linux vs Solaris?

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  • Go with Linux (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And with Knoppix. Just burn new CD's when new releases come out. No need for hard drives. Students that use the computers can get portable USB drives.
    • Re:Go with Linux (Score:3, Insightful)

      Most computer labs should disable booting from CD - allowing your users to run arbitrary software will eventually result in a visit from the FBI.
      • Well, so much for letting users run the compiler...
    • I don't think students want to spend the precious last 5 minutes to an assignment's deadline waiting as KDE is configuring your devices from a CD.
    • Re:Go with Linux (Score:5, Informative)

      by innosent ( 618233 ) <> on Friday September 26, 2003 @01:52AM (#7061669)
      No, don't use Knoppix/Gnoppix, it will actually make things harder to administer. The best route here is to use a local hard drive for swap, /tmp, and machine-specific /etc/localmachine files, but have a root (read-only) NFS mount from a central server, as well as the user (/home/xx, read/write) mounts. Use a good caching filesystem for /etc, /usr, /bin, /sbin, and /opt (read-only), and you'll cut back on the network traffic. This makes upgrading easy, keeps the students files accessible from any machine, and means that things like kernel upgrades, security patches, etc. only need to be done once. Just set up the root mount as a directory on the server, and set the tftp/bootp servers up. Get decent ethernet cards in all the machines (that allow booting from tftp), and you're done.

      As for which operating system to use, it really doesn't matter, but why pay for licenses if you don't need to? If the PHB's don't like Linux, use Solaris, but otherwise there's no reason to use a commercial Unix. If you feel that you need to, put Solaris on the main server, with Linux clients, but realise that this may limit you on caching filesystem choice. As for what to install, use GDM/KDM for logins, install both Gnome and KDE, and Evolution, Mozilla,, and whatever other apps (oregano/spice, verilog, anjuta, jdk, etc...) you need, and you should be set. Set links on the shared /etc to /etc/localmachine/xx for any files you need to. This actually seems like a good situation for something like Gentoo or *BSD, since you'll probably be very selective in what software is installed, and need to keep up with security patches/new versions. Allow users to mount the cdrom drives (on their local machines), floppies, and usb disks, but don't allow the machines to boot any other way than tftp.
      • It should be possible to use this type of config and present serveral different boot options to the students.

        Let them boot into Solaris x86, various linux and bsd variants, etc.

        Then just worry about maintaining one central set of boot images.
  • Here at WVU the CS department went and put Linux on all the Sparcs (and the NT boxes as well). The Sparcs were running Solaris for the 3 previous years I've been here, plus for who knows how long before that, so take that for what you will.
  • by More Trouble ( 211162 ) on Thursday September 25, 2003 @09:52PM (#7060509)
    We manage large clusters of both Solaris and Linux machines. We are in the middle of moving all of the UMich central infrastructure to Linux, mostly for cost reasons. The main difference is that Sun hardware is better in a lights-out environment. For a lab environment, this shouldn't be an issue. As far as OS speed, simplicity, and flexibility, I think Linux beats Solaris hands down. And Intel hardware is way cheaper and faster than Sun hardware at the low end.

    As far as how we manage our clusters, the answer is the same for Solaris, Linux, and for the matter Mac OS X: radmind []. Check it out. It integrates tripwire and filesystem management. We use it for installation, patching, and updating.


  • MSU has done both (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Thursday September 25, 2003 @09:56PM (#7060523) Journal
    The Michigan State University Computer Science department has managed both. I do not personally know how the admins found the machines to be, so you'd have to contact them. I do know they had two Linux labs and cut it back down to one, but I don't know the reasoning (or if it's still that way). I'll refrain from speculating because I don't think that would help any.

    Hint hint to all the budding Linux advocates who have no experience managing labs of any machines, let alone these two specifically... speculation isn't really useful and this is a really specific use case. With computer science users you have to assume both "knowlegable" idiots, and some quite knowlegable malicious attacks.

    For a specific latter of the former, we'd do OS projects that involved using the operating system support for semaphores. In Solaris (at the time we were doing this, I don't know about now), there were a very specific number of semaphores that could exist, and since certain parts of the operating system also used them, a single poorly-written program involving semaphores could easily consume them all. "Knowlegable idiots." (I didn't actually do this, but only because I caught my error while I was compiling it... if I'd run the resulting executable I'm about 80% certain I too would have DOS'ed the machine... definately a "do it early" assignment! This class, IIRC, was eventually allocated the aforementioned Linux lab because they kept hosing all the other class's homeworks, which were typically all due at midnight on various Mondays.)

    As for the latter, I'm sure you are all aware of the number of security vulnerabilities in things that involve having console access or other otherwise "legitimate" access to the system.
    • I think that I agree with several posters. The guy who suggested knoppix has a solid idea, except for the fact that the students will probably need CD access to load various things. Also, you probably don't want the student able to eject the CD and boot off his OWN version of knoppix to keyboard sniff, or whatever.

      When it comes to easy of re-install, both have solid paths: jumpstart for solaris and kickstart for linux. 'boot net' from the ok prompt on a solaris box, or have a special floppy that does th
      • [...] or have a special floppy that does the same for a linux box [...]

        Shouldn't even need that. Any remotely modern machine should be able to PXE boot, at which state the scenario is the same as "boot net". We do this to automatically install our FreeBSD and Redhat machines.

  • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Thursday September 25, 2003 @10:04PM (#7060567) Homepage

    ...Linux largely wins. The Solaris kernel is much more mature than Linux (instantly earning me a boatload of kneejerk flames on slashdot), but their userspace tools are crap. The desktops shipped with Solaris are ugly and awkward to use, and getting KDE or Gnome to build and run properly can be an exercise in frustration if you're not familiar with Sun's way of doing things.

    On the flip side, installing a hundred Solaris boxes is trivial using their JumpStart programs. A new client system RARPs an IP address from the server, downloads a small kernel from the server, NFS mounts a copy of the installation packages from the server, and does a hands-free install. It's extremely flexible and has been ion production use for years. For Linux you're stuck with walking around with CDs, or using some kludge from sourceforge, or a less-well-tested solution like whatever redhat uses.

    Along the same lines, Sun's patching utility is designed with remote-boot or diskless clients in mind. You apply the patch once to the directory tree being used, and you're done. Something similar can be done with diskful clients. Linux binary packages mostly assume that the machine is on its own, so each box will want to download from a remote site and store a local copy, leading to atrocious workarounds like an NFS-shared /var/cache.

    Honestly, it doesn't make much difference. You'll be writing wrapper scripts and custom solutions either way. The difference will be in other factors, like cost of hardware or price of support or political games with the rest of the organization. Having managed groups of both kinds of systems in a production environment for years, I would probably recommend Linux to someone who is asking for recommendations. Not because it's inherently superior, but because you seem more comfortable with it.

    • I should point out that Sun's latest Gnome builds are not JumpStart safe! Good luck trying to install Gnome remotely. It's never been a problem on Linux, however.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      With Linux you're certainly not stuck with wandering around with CD's. Linux offers Kickstart as an equally good boot server. In fact, I think it's a lot easier, as it ships with the usual bundle of helpful linux utilites, rather then the impenetrable mess that is Jumpstart.
      ( i nux/RHL-9-Ma nual/custom-guide/ch-kickstart2.html)

      Only thing with Linux is that you have the problem of the boot floppy, which you don't have with Sun Sparc or other systems that have the concept o
      • in addition, do not forget about systemimager []. It provides an easy way to install configured images across the network (using PXE or CD or floppy). Very handy... I have used it to load 20 servers at a time, and the tool allows for post-install configure scripts, so that individual boxes can be configured differently during the load. Very handy for large installs, and I think the sun tools (although more mature) are less configurable.
    • by dfreed ( 40276 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @01:29AM (#7061611) Homepage
      Cron apt updates installed packages on the schedule you specify. apt-proxy sits between you and the net and keeps a local mirror of the packages requested, so 100 requests = 1 outside request. Plus you can add your own custom packages to it so that your machines are configured properly. Upgrades? Well by hand it's
      apt-get -y dist-upgrade. The stable branch is just that, and the testing branch is really production ready for most definitions of production. Please remember red hat != linux, it is just a distribution with bad package management; but not anywhere near as bad as Solaris package management.
      Why is Solaris worse?
      1. Solaris does not do reverse dependency checks beyond the parent level.
      2. There is no tool to verify that all the proper packages are installed prior to installing a new one.
      3. Sun knows this and their help desk acknowledges that it is a known issue. They also indicate that there is not plan at this time to fix the problem.
      • Debian. Cron apt updates installed packages on the schedule you specify. apt-proxy sits between you and the net and keeps a local mirror of the packages requested, so 100 requests = 1 outside request. Plus you can add your own custom packages to it so that your machines are configured properly. Upgrades? Well by hand it's apt-get -y dist-upgrade. The stable branch is just that, and the testing branch is really production ready for most definitions of production.

        Seconded, with reservations. We have r

      • I have to concur with this from my experience.

        I recently set up a classroom/student lab cluster of 10 systems using debian stable and i've found it relativly easy to support. I'm aware that this is only a tenth of size of the cluster being discussed but my guess would be that it scales.

        For setting up this cluster I first built a custom woody build on a unit of the standardized hardware we were going to use - standard woody, plus updated X, KDE, multimedia, research/science specific custom local packages,
    • The desktops shipped with Solaris are ugly and awkward to use, and getting KDE or Gnome to build and run properly can be an exercise in frustration if you're not familiar with Sun's way of doing things.

      Current updates of Solaris 9 come with Sun-supported GNOME out of the box.

      The Solaris Freeware [] (sic) Companion CD [] which comes in the media kit has been shipping with KDE for serveral years now.

      Updates are produced on a 3-month cycle to coincide with the latest update of Solaris.

      Don't forget, Solaris runs on

    • For Linux you're stuck with walking around with CDs, or using some kludge from sourceforge, or a less-well-tested solution like whatever redhat uses.

      Someone already pointed this out but not only that Red Hat has kickstart install as an option here - I must add that kickstart actually kicks ass. On a decent network, even more so - install is considerably faster than from a CD.

      Apart from that, Red Hat may very well be a system of your choice for this lab - both server and desktop are good products, you can

    • This is why my current Dream Operating System [Actually Feasible Variant] is "GNU/Solaris" on UltraSPARC hardware. The Solaris kernel with all of its features, the SPARC hardware with all of its coolness, and the GNU userspace tools.

      Alternative to the Solaris kernel, I'd like the Linux kernel but with a sane /dev and /proc.

      I could tell you about my current Dream Operating System [Complete Science Fiction Variant], but what would be the point? :-)

  • by Colitis ( 8283 ) <jj DOT walker AT outlook DOT co DOT nz> on Thursday September 25, 2003 @10:15PM (#7060656)
    That's the way I do it at work, all the machines boot off the network and pull their entire filesystem down from the server with rsync.

    Makes the machines very very easy to keep updated (via chroot on the master image server) and practically indestructible.

    The increase in my workload when going from supporting it on around 250 machines to around 400 machines was approximately zero.
  • by austad ( 22163 )
    Patching on solaris sucks, userspace programs suck, CDE sucks. Plus, it's more expensive.

    Use linux. It's free, has several excellent desktops out of the box, and it just plain more "academically interesting."

    Someone mentioned radmind for managing it, it works well. You could also do some fancy work with shell scripting and ssh, I've used this to manage large mail clusters.
    • I agree with you. Using either kickstart or sysimager to dole out custom Linux installs with all machines running autorpm to a local update mirror. That way you can simply put all the new rpm's that you'd like to have on all machines and let em pick it up in the morning.
  • Why not Mac OS X? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plsuh ( 129598 ) <> on Thursday September 25, 2003 @11:12PM (#7061040) Homepage
    Not to start a flamewar, but genuinely curious about why you're not considering Mac OS X for this lab? It has some nice features for a CS lab.
    • Free GUI dev tools (XCode []) built on top of gcc
    • XCode's fix and continue and zero link systems for speeding up debugging
    • XCode's distributed build system
    • Cocoa API for rapid application development
    • BSD-based OS at the lowest levels
    • Perl, Python, Apache, PHP pre-installed
    • JDK 1.4.1
    • Oracle, Sybase, MySQL all available natively
    • Nice low-level PowerPC arch with lots of registers for teaching asm classes
    • Altivec SIMD beats the living daylights out of MMX/SSE/etc in terms of both speed and clean architecture
    • Source code to Darwin layer available for free under open source license
    • Multithreaded OS all the way down into the multithreaded kernel
    • Rootless X11 server that utilizes hardware accel an optional install.
    • Vendor-supported Netboot/NetInstall with Mac OS X Server for easy lab maintenance
    • Panther (10.3) can tie into LDAPv3, NetInfo, NIS, Active Directory, and Kerberos-based directory service networks natively out of the box
    • Tons of open source software available via either Fink or DarwinPorts
    • BONUS - can install MS Office, ThinkFree Office, or AppleWorks and allow non-geeks to use the machines for writing papers, etc.

    Apple's prices for higher education are quite reasonable, especially compared to low end Sun-Solaris-Sparc. What say you?

    • Because the point of OS X is general purpose software and eye candy, neither of which is relevant for a CS cluster.

      I don't think there's anything else you mentioned for which there isn't a Linux equivalent.
      • Computer lab not cluster, LAB. Linux equiv or not, the ability for non-geeks to use it efficiently could be the tie-breaker. Sure for you or I a switch from Office2k to Office XP would be easy, but for non-geeks it's like pulling teeth. Believe me, I've downgraded back to O2K to a great many users in my desktop support days. It's even worse teaching users to go from O2K to OO.
      • Yet if you run it without Aqua, you've got a very solid and working BSD backdrop to play with.

        I don't think there's anything else you mentioned for which there isn't a Linux equivalent.

        Maybe the BSD-based OS, eh?
    • All of these have an equivelant on linux and probably solaris. If any of them DON'T, they're not relavent because you don't want to teach students to use tools that won't be available to them in corporate environment unix development (where linux just recently caught a foothold, and mac OSX will not be the dominant platform in the foreseeable future) Apple's prices when compared to sparcs are cheap, but not when compared to x86 boxen.

      On some of your points:
      JDK 1.4.1: Why the hell do you point this out? Thi
    • by Soft ( 266615 )
      • apparently NIS, NFS, etc., as required to integrate into a wider infrastructure, are beginning to be usable just now (even though OSX is years old and BSD-based);
      • remote management isn't as straightforward as conventional UNIX, and the tools and conventions aren't standard;
      • too many applications seem to set umask to 000 (suited to a home system, not a workstation).

      All IMHO, of course.

      • Huh? Er, where are you getting your facts?

        apparently NIS, NFS, etc., as required to integrate into a wider infrastructure, are beginning to be usable just now (even though OSX is years old and BSD-based);

        NFS has been usable and in the kernel since the the NextStep days. I've mounted and exported file systems via NFS on Mac OS X to and from OpenBSD, Linux, and Solaris. Although it's not a common configuration, user home directories can be mounted via NFS as well as AFP, modulo the gaping security issues inh

    • Carnegie Mellon has several CS labs filled with flat iMacs running a custom install of OS X. I visited the campus and it all works perfectly. The top tech school in the US pulled it off, why not follow their lead?
    • Oracle, Sybase, MySQL all available natively

      Do you have a reference for the assertion that Oracle is available? I've checked Metalink, and there's no reference to it at all. I've seen Sybase on OSX tho'.
      • Try here: =1 439096&Act=5

        or here (near the bottom): /i ndex.html

        • Interesting - according to MetaLink [] the platforms on which Oracle is available are:

          Data General Intel Unix
          Fujitsu-Siemens BS2000/OSD
          Fujitsu-Siemens RM200-600E Reliant Unix
          HP Alpha OpenVMS
          HP Tru64 UNIX
          HP-UX Itanium
          HP-UX PA-RISC
          IBM AIX -Based Systems
          IBM NUMA-Q DYNIX/ptx
          IBM S/390 based Linux
          IBM z/OS (OS/390)
          Linux x86
          Microsoft Windows 2000
          Microsoft Windows NT for Intel
          Microsoft Windows XP
          NEC UX/4800
          Novell NetWare
          SGI Unix
          Solaris Operating Environment (SPARC)
          Solaris Operating Environment x86
          UnixWare (SCO)

  • Sun Rays (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bulldog2260 ( 649125 )
    My college uses 64 Sun Ray's attached to a E450. It works flawlessly. They system is able to handle the loads just fine. Haveing a Sun Ray environment enables them to have a central point in which they can upgrade and patch rather than having numerous machines in which to admin.
    • I would have to agree with this for a college. Minimal maintenance and you can scale a Sun environment to a huge level with the Enterprise Ex800 and E1x000 machines. I worked at a college for several years and they were nearly 100% Sun (with some SGI and DEC), and we had very few problems. Sun support for colleges is excellent also. Marc
    • Sun Rays are definitely the preferred use for a lab environment. It makes upgrading a lot cheaper for the future. And you can administer all the systems in one spot. Besides they look cool.
    • SunRays are also very small, which is good for installations where labs are also used for classrooms. Students don't have to avoid kicking minitowers shoved under the desk or "prairie dog" to see over hardware sitting on top of desks. This is a problem where I work now.

      Where I was a graduate assistant, [] SunRays are used for a writing environment -- 30 in each of five classrooms. The desktop interface is basically a Windows 9x clone built with TWM (which was adequate, but I think IceWM or something else wou
  • "I couldn't get agreed with my colleagues"

    You may work at a college, but did you actually bother to attend one?!

  • In my opinion, go with Linux. You'll generally get more bang for your buck than with Solaris workstations. Unless you've already invested a great deal in classes based on Solaris, I strongly recommend Linux.

    I actually run a much smaller lab of 12 workstations of Sun Ultra 5's, and we're running Aurora Linux (link []). In my opinion, we'd be much more happy with Intel hardware running Linux, it's more upgradeable (our lab was set up in 2000 and the computers are already too slow to run applications like Mozi
    • Perhaps things have changed since Solaris 8

      Things have changed, but not really for a desktop OS.

      I wouldn't hesitate to put Solaris on a server for the lab(s) or something like that, but even though I'm an avid supporter of Solaris, putting it on a desktop for a lab might not be that friendly to your students.
  • by Prien715 ( 251944 ) <agnosticpope@ g m a i l . c om> on Friday September 26, 2003 @01:17AM (#7061572) Journal
    I'd honestly prefer linux. Three reasons:

    1) Home Use: It's something you could give people to use on their own computer. The knowledge they learn using Linux in the lab won't be lost. They can go home and install whatever distro you choose if they wish. Whether they do their project in the lab or in the dorm room, they can have exactly the same setup -- if they so choose.

    2) Better user interface. Sure you can install Gnome on solaris but most people hoenestly don't.

    3) Better Performance/Price ratio: Price is always a factor and is correlated with performance. I couldn't stand the way matlab ran on some solaris blades which weren't updated due to cost. I eventually sucked it up and installed it on my own machine because I couldn't stand waiting literally five minutes for the machine to tell I made a syntax error. (And to all you profs out there: please, PLEASE, test your projects. My class was assigned a project using an (O) N^N algorithm. He hadn't attempted implementing the method, but it would've taken well over 3 months on a 20 proc Sun machine to run our assigned data set.)
  • by Dan Farina ( 711066 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @02:08AM (#7061715)
    I don't know if it means a whole lot to you, but the computer labs at UC Berkeley use Solaris and Sun Rays (little dumb terminals.)

    The package has worked very well for me as a student, and I would think/hope that Sun Rays are cost effective and an easy boxed dumb terminal solution. (Since I've never had such a demand, I don't know how much they cost and such.)

    Our web site also runs on Solaris.

    I find it rather ironic, but I somewhat thought how appropriate it would be that we'd use a BSD of some sort. Speaking of which, you should really look at BSD as an option -- it isn't nearly as edgy as Linux, and when you're hacking away on the common file server you do NOT want the thing to crash on a few hundred rabid CS undergraduate students close to deadline.

    My vote:
    -Solaris for a paid for good dumb-terminal option (Comes with the benefits of cost/having to maintain one server, and the obvious downsides of the server failure...which shouldn't be too hard to prevent if there is good supporting staff for that one machine)
    -*BSD is more solid/mature overall but may require some more screwing around with and doesn't offer a nice, out of the box, trouble free dumb terminal solution as Sun Rays do.
    -Linux is fine, lots of people use it personally and we have many Linux support groups, but for the big servers that have to be solid more than perform at the bleeding edge, I would put a cautious vote against this vs. the other two options above.

    Lastly, thank you for fighting and not selling another CS lab to Windows. Students I think will be better prepared at large when exposed to a non-toy operating system and are forced to use it to at least some productive degree. I myself log in via SSH from an XP box and run Exceed (X Windows server), start up emacs, and between that, a GDB buffer, and the terminal, I may as well be sitting at a lab computer. (with lag, as would be expected but not bad at all)
    • I should also note that we use Solaris 8, just for the sake of completeness. Our three lower division classes consisting of hundreds of people have their classes in rooms with something like 30-50 Rays per room, each supported by a different solaris server, so figure 3 for those 3 largeish labs (or you could consider them all parts of a larger lab), plus many more elsewhere on campus that we can log into and do work on, tied together by a common file server. (eg I can log onto, torus
  • by root 66 ( 72128 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @03:27AM (#7061917)
    Personally, I'm replacing all my decent Linux systems with FreeBSD now.
    I find it way easier to maintain and keep uptodate - and that without losing stability.
    For system updates, you recompile it on one box, let the other systems mount the src folder via NFS and install the files.
    Same is true for the ports (i.e. all the additional software). The portupgrade(1) tools make software management *very* easy.
    If you don't want to reinstall from scratch once a year, you are on the good side with BSD: the system interfaces rarely change much, and upgrading even works fine between major versions.

    Apart from that, BSD has
    - way better NFS support than Linux, especially when it comes down to stability
    - a great community. People on the mailinglists are both very helpful and inspiring.
    - a long history regarding universities.

    • Oh. And I forgot to mention the *great* documentation.
      When something goes wrong, you really have a detailed manpage for everything.
      Ever tried to get decent documentation for a device driver on Linux? (Without having to read the the kernel sources!)

      • One of the questions that comes up all the time is: How enthusiastic is our support for Linux?

        Linux was written on our machines and for our machines many years ago. Today, much of Linux being done is done on our machines. Ten percent of our servers are going for Linux use. Linux is a simple language, easy to understand, easy to get started with. It's great for students, great for somewhat casual users, and it's great for interchanging programs bet

        • I don't think that simplicity is a difference between BSD and Linux.
          Of course, it always depends. But I find that the BSDs are much more in the unix tradition of "Keep it simple stupid" compared to most commercial Linux distributions. (I.e. the rpm command is not in that tradition.)

          As for the language part of your comment. I don't think there is much difference between BSD and Linux when starting to learn. In the end you will run the same userland programs on both machines.

          I don't want to put down Linux,
  • by Fished ( 574624 ) * <> on Friday September 26, 2003 @03:31AM (#7061925)
    Having administered computer labs running both Linux and Solaris, I think you'll find that software is less important than hardware. PC hardware tends to be cheap and inconsistent - I have not encountered any PC hardware that gives the day-to-day reliability of even a crappy Sun like an Ultra 5. In terms of Software, you just get a lot more out of the box with Linux that you will spend weeks downloading and compiling on Solaris. For example, KDE, GNOME, a modern version of perl, StarOffice, etc. all come stock with a Linux distro, but have to be added to Solaris.

    On the other hand, there's no reason you have to run Linux on Intel. You could get Macs, as one person suggested, or even load Linux on Solaris. Of course, if you get Macs, why not run OSX? Frankly, I think OSX is the nicest UNIX variant out at the moment, it runs everything you'd expect UNIX to run, AND it has two important bonuses for your purposes: (1) Microsoft Office available and (2) the NextStep programming environment (Cocoa), which is widely regarded as one of the finest ever made. It is also very managable, includes good and robust Java support, and Apple does a good job with updates and the like.

    • I'm going to have to correct you there on the software issue. The latest Solaris 9 now ships with Gnome in the core install, not as an add-on. Perl has been in core Solaris since 8. Staroffice is still an addon, but for good reason. 80% of solaris users run it on servers, and most people don't need StarOffice taking up disk space on their database or web servers. But if you do get the Solaris media kit, it comes with a CD to install StarOffice, no need to go download.

      I most definitely have to agree with yo
    • Our server lab has a combination of Suns and Dell hardware. On the Sun side, we have an E250, some 420's, a couple of 450's, a 280, a couple 4500's and a couple 6500's. In all the time I've been with this organization (19 months) we've had all manner of failures, namely disks, controllers, CPUs and memory. I don't think we've ever had an event-free month, and at times we have multiple failures the same week.

      Compare that with the Dell boxes (such as the 2450's) running mostly Win2k but also Linux. I'm

  • by ader ( 1402 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @05:29AM (#7062237) Homepage
    You're going to read justifications from both sides of the fence, then all kinds of reports to discount assertions made by each side, plus random alternative advocacy for favourites like MacOS X. Your problem isn't picking "the best" option; it's that your team can't (or won't) stop arguing about it and while this drags on, the people you convinced to go with Unix over Windows will wonder if they couldn't have had a W2K network in the same time.

    Face it, when you pick one then you'll have to make it work in a consistent, reliable and centralised fashion because you won't be going back. And you can do that with either Linux or Solaris because the solutions you want exist for both; in many cases, it's the same (Unix) software, like Cfengine. Don't spend too long worrying about which is easier or harder to set up and manage; once you've learned how with either OS, which you're going to have to do anyway, then it will be "easy".

  • You don't really say what the computers are to be for or maybe I missed it.

    You see if the computers are simple desktops for the students to do office style work on then go with the cheapest solution. Lintel :)

    If the computers are to be running specialised apps, maybe an IDE for development, research software then go with the platform that has the software you need. Obvious perhaps but it is a bit annoying when the software you use to teach doesn't actually run on the computers the students have.

    However i

  • by nbvb ( 32836 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @06:39AM (#7062437) Journal
    Single Vendor Support.

    Hardware, software, servers. All one phone number.

    It matters. Anyone who says it doesn't has too much free time on their hands.

    A Sun system breaks, great, you call Sun, they come out and fix it. Then, if it was the HD that failed, you type "boot net - install", come back in an hour, and you have a fully working machine.

    Besides this, if done right, a Sun lab is a "WOW!" factor.

    When I attended Montclair State University [], most labs were PC & Mac. We had one SPARC lab -- SPARCstation 5's & 20's.

    That was the "WOW" lab. Whenever the Dean needed to take someone on a tour, that was the lab they stopped in.

    And I have to tell you, as an undergraduate, it was DAMNED cool to work on Sun workstations ...

    Forget that KDE/GNOME/whatever bullshit argument. CS students will use whatever they have. It's *GOOD* for them to get exposed to other environments, whether it be OpenWindows/CDE (as it was in my day... Solaris 2.5.1) or CDE/GNOME or whatever.

    A desktop is a desktop. Forget this "it's familiar" or "it's easy" bullshit.

    What difference does the desktop interface make to people who are majoring in CS?

    If it does, they should reexamine why they're there.
    • > "boot net - install"

      RedHat's KickStart utility does the same thing; we've got about 170 rack-mounted machines that can be cleanly installed from a KickStart file and RPMs mounted on an NFS share. Takes about 5 minutes (on a 100MB switched LAN) if you're only doing one machine.
      • Yes, but you don't have a serial-controlled Open Firmware from whence you can type that "boot net - install" ...

        Someone needs to go over to the server and either a) Enable PXE;

        b) Drop in a boot floppy.

        Either way, it still requires physical access. If you have PXE boot turned on the whole time, you run some serious risks there...
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday September 26, 2003 @07:34AM (#7062651)
    If you are concerned with the educational value. I would suggest that you use both. Half Sun and Half Linux. Using Both platforms helps teach the students the difference and similarities between the two platforms. As well any programming differences. But the two platforms are similar enough to install the same set of GNU tools. You want your students to go into the market place with a good verity of platform knowledge. Plus if a class needs all Suns or all Linuxes they can just SSH to each other and open a remote X display for any GUI tools that they need. This helps encourage good platform independent programming.
  • I am a former comp sci lab admin, and am currently a unix admin at a largish facility.

    1) How easy are they to maintain?
    I've found them to be roughly equivalent on the software side of things. There are tools with each that makes it fairly easy. I think the linux tools are a bit more...widespread, perhaps. I've had extensive experience iwth redhat and their tools are pretty good. Debian also has a nice set, but my experience has been limited to fink running on os x (at least, my experience with apt). Reinst
  • ...that you would be better served in a lab environment by using Linux over Sun. Here are the issues:

    1. Cost - Obvious: Lintel hardware and software costs are _MUCH_ lower.

    2. Maintenance - Lintel is again cheaper and easier to manage overall in a lab environment.

    3. Tools - This is the major determining factor in my opinion. The tools available on Solaris are outdated and generally suck. In my past experience with Solaris, I found myself replacing the Sun tools with GNU tools and other open source softwar
  • Whatever you use, remember to use something that has been well-tested and is a standard. For Linux, I would suggest RedHat or SuSE, although at home I use slackware... Solaris is even better in that it doesnt change much even across versions and you can use Solaris 7 packages in Solaris 9, and there are plenty of packages, opensourced and commercial to go around.

    If you are worried about performance or really low costs, just go with Linux or FreeBSD. However, as much flame-attracting as it may sound, Solari
  • And they don't have that many people doing sysadmin.

    It's more of who is the sysadmin, how much control the sysadmin has over the systems and what the systems are for. And then there's the budget of course.

    With Linux and the *BSDs a lot of the tools come free. If you're going Linux pick a distro that you find easy to do mass updates for.
    • Of course Google doesn't have many sysAdmins they don't have many users. The number of boxes are for processing power.

      You are talking about two completely different sets of requirements(Google and college).

      You can't compare the two and come up with any thing useful.

  • Since you're not mentioning what kind of Solaris boxes you're looking at, and what they should be able to do, this might not be the right direction, but have you looked at the SunRay [] thin client offerings from Sun?

    We have a boatload (600+) of them at our school.

    Good Things:
    • Terminals are cheap (less than $400 a piece).
    • Easy to administrate.
    • Homogenous all over campus.
    • Flashy smartcard so you can bring your session anywhere.

    Bad Things:

    • Crappy, crappy CDE windowmanager. Yes, you can have Gnome, but a
    • As I had posted earlier, this is the solution my university prefers. Since posting my comment I've poked around on the internet looking for similar "ultra thin" (as opposed to just thin) clients, but have found no well known solutions outside the Sun Rays. I really can't think of anything that is more appropriate for mass administration. I have never suffered lag or slowness, although there are occasional problems (usually network related, I assume) to small clusters of terminals. As much as everyone lo
  • Our sysadmins like Redhat GNU/Linux because they prefer the rhnd daemon which allows for keeping systems updated pretty easy. It can be setup to update your system when the new updates are found and can be setup to check every 2 hours or longer. Solaris requires actually applying patches, but I have not tried Solaris 9, and don't know of any 'automatic' system patching things on Solaris like rhnd.

    As far as administration in general, RH has a few nice GUI tools if you like that but so does Sun. Both are

    • Just go to and install the apt RPM. Do it. Do it now. Then do an "apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade". Assuming that your RHL install is reasonably sane, you won't see it suggesting that it's about to uninstall large numbers of useful packages. But you should see it offering to upgrade quite a few of your existing packages.

      Once you've got that done, set up a cronjob to run "apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade -dy" every night. Check the output first thing in the morning, and

      • Yes I use this too. On my BSD boxes though I use sup or cvsup which updates source, which is also good. Sometimes using the source for upgrades is actually better, sometimes its not. Its all a matter of preference.
  • Here at Virginia Tech most, if not all, of the Unix labs are Linux. While this works well for classes, here in the multimedia lab (yes, really) we've had good experiences with FreeBSD. I'll be modded down endlessly for this, but the robustness of the operating system has proved itself far above Linux, where on some systems with oddish hardware basic functionality (like ps and ifconfig) crashes out of the box -- without ever touching the network, so a big fat "no" to those who will claim it was h4xored.

  • Errrm, hold on. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "I couldn't get agreed with my colleagues about the amount of efforts required to manage a hundred of Linux PCs vs. a hundred Sparc boxes."

    OK, first up - Solaris doesn't have to run on Sparc. You can get Solaris for x86. So, that in mind, think - Do you want (to install and then support) x86 boxes *or* SPARC boxes? What does the rest of your infrastructure use? Is there a skills base for looking after SPARC stuff?

    Next up - What apps do you want to use? Do they run on Linux, and do they run on Solaris?

  • The advantage of Sun is more consistent and reliable hardware, especially the fact that you get a command line interface on the serial console and can do things like power the machine up/down.

    On the Intel side management via serial port is available on many high-end boards, but it is in a state of continous flux and not consistent.

    Having said this, as far as the OS goes, having once managed huge numbers of Sun, Linux and FreeBSD machines, I say FreeBSD wins hands down. I am not quite sure what it is about
  • If you want to go with the most secure, lowest administrative overhead, probably lowest longterm price, go with the Sun Microsystems SunRay "Appliances" against SunRay backend servers. This environment blows away Linux with respect to security and ease of administration (ask the DoD they have close to 400,000 SunRays installed). I used to work for Sun and have used these first hand. These types of appliances are the future!!! Lintel is the only way to go for home use, yet if you have the budget go with a

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus