Solaris Integrates Like a Charm

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - Although Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris has long been recognized as a solid platform for hosting IP-based applications, the acid test in its usefulness to the corporate world is based on its capability of working with other network operating systems.

In order to find out how well Solaris could integrate into a typical corporate environment, my shot at Smallco was based on Solaris 8. I then went about seeing what it took to connect Smallco and its clients to its new parent company, Bigcorp.

Smallco consisted of a handful of Windows 9x and Windows NT clients using Microsoft Networking for file-and-print sharing. Also on the network was a Solaris 8 Sparc box, set up as a mail server, hosting the company's intranet and Web site. I used Samba to let the Solaris machine participate in the Windows network, creating both home directories for all the users and a central file depository.

All FTP, Telnet, and HTTP requests to Smallco were forwarded to the Solaris box using a NAT (network address translation) router. In addition, I created user accounts for each of the Windows clients using the Solaris administration tool, storing information in the Solaris password file. The idea was to create a real environment that maximized the strengths of both Windows and Solaris.

Next came the task of integrating Smallco's network with Bigcorp's.

Although at first this sounded like a daunting task, I soon discovered it would be quite simple, taking less than half a day. In fact, each of the systems I needed to connect had already created a way to make it easy; the fact that I was trying to integrate Solaris was irrelevant. The ease of integration was a testament to each of the servers being based on IP and open standards.

The e-mail was the easiest. Fortunately, Domino can serve mail as a POP (Post Office Protocol) server. And because I had already configured my clients to receive mail from the Solaris 8 POP server, all I had to do was point them to the Domino Server for their messages. Voila, any clients requiring access to Domino applications were now connected by installing the Notes client software, which is available on the Web.

The next easiest requirement was file and print, and again it was a no-brainer.

Thanks to Novell's move to make IP native to NetWare, hooking up was easy. I simply downloaded the latest client, installed it on each machine, and instantly had access to the Bigcorp NetWare file sever. The only trouble I had was Windows-related: One of the machines refused to boot when the client was installed. However, the same Novell client worked on other machines.

Last, I was charged with migrating my users to an LDAP-based directory server.

I also had to make sure whatever future adds, moves, and changes I made locally would be reflected in the main database. Bigcorp had the presence of mind, thankfully, to go with an LDAP server -- as opposed to a proprietary directory server. Furthermore, the new headquarters was running iPlanet Netscape Directory Server 4.11 on Solaris 7.

After conferring with both Sun and the acquiring company, we agreed the best solution was to install another iPlanet Directory Server on my Solaris 8 machine and have the two replicate. That way each of the companies could administer their local environments while working off the same data set.

I installed the copy of the iPlanet Directory Server that came with Solaris 8 and configured it as a Consumer machine. (Consumer is iPlanet's terminology for a backup or slave.) Furthermore, because I wanted to preserve the settings of the Bigcorp server, I told my machine to instigate the replication by choosing the CIR (consumer-instigated replication) option.

When I started the management console for the first time, I was delighted to see in the administration console both Smallco's server and the Sun machine at Bigcorp. A click on the Users tab showed the entire Bigcorp directory.

I added a couple of Smallco's users and found Bigcorp could also see them. It was that easy. Depending on the number of users and amount of information you have on each, you may choose a different path for getting user data in the directory server. Writing a script to create an LDAP directory information file or using import tools are options. Most likely, you will be able to move most or all of the information with a combination of hiring a script programmer and a temp.

Although installation is a big part of any upgrade or change, the real heat comes in the following days and weeks. The beauty of this move is that Bigcorp didn't have to do a single thing to its infrastructure. The point is that with nothing changed there were no problems. In fact, directory services were improved in both performance and availability with the addition of my directory server.

Even better was that there was little or no impact on the end-users. Although the services may have been coming from different machines in a different state, all of the same applications were still available to my users, preserving the look and feel they had come to understand. The biggest change they faced was logging in to a dialog box that said "NetWare" instead of "Microsoft Networking."

In short, I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to provide my company with a combination of disparate networking services commonly found in corporate America. More important, my new bosses and I can be sure that there will be no "uh-ohs" come Monday morning. Thanks to the use of IP and the practice of most vendors of truly supporting open standards, interoperability problems can now be relegated to horror stories for grandchildren.

And although seemingly little of this exercise had to do with Solaris, that is because Solaris has defined the path other vendors are now taking. Be it luck, genius, or a combination of each, Sun and its flagship have been groomed for this for more than 15 years. Because the rest of the market has seen the wisdom of Sun's decisions, getting Solaris to work with other network operating systems should be no harder than knowing the IP addresses or domain names. For this reason, I gave it our highest score of Excellent.

Steve Jefferson (stevej@hawaii.rr.com) is a former editor in the Test Center and currently works as a free-lance reviewer in Honolulu.

THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT

Solaris 8 interoperability

Business Case: Not only has Solaris proved to be a great Internet server, but its capability of interoperating with other NOSes and servers is top-notch. The biggest migration cost is essentially limited to the method you employ to move users from the existing system to the new one. No further administration costs or user training were required.

Technology Case: Because Solaris has always been based on protocols and open standards the rest of the industry is now embracing, it enjoys a singular advantage when it comes to interoperability. Introduction of or migration to systems using IP, POP, and LDAP, for example, should be painless.

Pros:

+ Native support of LDAP, IP, and POP

+ Windows file sharing with Samba

+ Runs on economy Pentium systems to 64-node behemothsCons:

- No easy tool for migrating system users to LDAPSun Microsystems Inc., Mountain View, California; (800) 786-0404; www.sun.com.

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