SolutionBase: Preparing to install Solaris 10 on an Intel machine

Originally designed for Sun's SPARC platform, Sun has released a version of Solaris 10 for x86-based computers as well. In this article, Jonathan Sinclair shows you how to get ready to install this Windows alternative.

When people look for alternatives to the Windows platform, usually the candidates include Mac OS or Linux. An often over-looked alternative comes from Sun MicroSystems called Solaris 10. Derived from Unix and originally written for Sun's proprietary Sparc CPUs, Sun has recently released a version of Solaris that runs on x86 CPUs. In this article, I'll show you how to get ready to install it.

What is Solaris 10?

Solaris 10, and earlier releases of Solaris, are offered on both Sparc platforms and Intel platforms. Intel platforms are designated as x64/x86 machines by Sun. Sparc platforms refer to hardware sold by Sun MicroSystems based on Sparc processors.

Most of the machines on your network probably use the x86 architecture. With Solaris 10's ability to run on x86, you can get a complete Solaris system up and running without buying Sun hardware. This ability makes it easier to make the transition from Windows to Solaris 10.

Author's Note

This article will focus on installing Solaris 10 on x86. Keep in mind the operating system and the installation are the same whether you're using a Sparc CPU or an x64/x86. For the purposes of this article, I'll be installing the CD images downloaded from the Solaris download site. I'm installing it on a Dell Latitude CpxJ laptop system. This has a Pentium III 500 MHz system, with 512MB of main memory, CD-Rom and one IDE hard disks. The system has a 10/100 Ethernet interface.

I'll be performing a fresh installation and not an upgrade, and no data exists on the hard disks which must be preserved.

This article assumes a reasonable familiarity with Unix and some basic system administration abilities such as understanding swap space and file systems. We will perform a basic installation from the CD media although Solaris offers items such as network installation, pre configuration and system duplication.

The installation software

You can download ISO installation versions of Solaris 10 on CDs or DVDs. You'll need a minimum of 4 CDs or 1 DVD. Keep in mind each ISO file is around 660 MB, so the download time is long, even on a high speed connection. The DVDs are broken down into parts, and the parts must be concatenated before a DVD image can be used. There are also companion CD and DVD images available. These images include additional software not necessary for the installation.

Sun offers the Sun Download Manager to ease the download process. The Sun Download Manager allows downloads to restart where they fail, instead of starting over.

The other choice for getting the operating system software is to purchase the installation kit directly from a Sun Representative or over the web. There are two available kits, The Solaris 10 Slim Kit, and the Solaris Enterprise System Media kit.

The Solaris 10 Slim Kit contains 3 DVDs:

  • Sparc installation
  • x64/x86 installation
  • Companion software

The cost of the Solaris 10 Slim Kit is $15.00.

The Solaris Enterprise System Media Kit contains 8 DVDs:

  • Sparc installation
  • x64/x86 installation
  • Companion software
  • Sun Management Center
  • Sun Java Enterprise System
  • N1 System Manager
  • Developer Tools
  • System Management Tools

The cost of the Solaris Enterprise System Media Kit is $30.00.

The choice of which kit to purchase depends on the intended use of the system. The Enterprise System Media Kit is the complete collection of Solaris 10 software.

System requirements

Sun provides a Hardware Compatibility List, or HCL, on the website. This list has both machines which are certified to work, using the Hardware Certification Test Suite or HCTS, or those which are reported to work. Systems which are reported to work are those which customers submit as successful, but have not been certified.

The HCL also lists specific peripherals and cards which have been certified or reported to work. The entire HCL is searchable on the Sun website.

In order to install on an x86 system, your system should have at least:

  • 256 MB main memory
  • 2 GB hard disk space
  • 120 Mhz processor.

Keep in mind that these are minimums. If the system is installed with 256 MB main memory, the GUI installer will not run, because it requires at least 512 MB main memory. The 2 GB of hard disk will not allow room for network services to run. Sun recommends at least 512 MB main memory and 5.3 GB of hard drive space to have a networked system with the windowed operating system.


The next step toward installing Solaris on x86 is to decide on the amount of disk space to be allocated for the installation. You need to consider things such as:

  • The number of languages your system will support, keeping in mind double byte languages such as Traditional Chinese take more space than single byte languages such as Spanish
  • The number of user home directories
  • If you intend to save crash dumps of the system crashes
  • Any server applications such as mail or printing
  • How many other applications will be running, such as a database server
  • How much swap space the installation will need

There are disk space guidelines for the Solaris components only, found in the Installation Guide. Two examples are:

  • The entire install, including OEM support: 6.8 GB
  • End user only: 5.3 GB

To these numbers you must add your own disk requirements. As an example system installation we will use:

  • The entire Solaris install including OEM support
  • 24 users who will use the system for their home directories
  • A database server which needs a maximum of 25GB and a starting allocation of 2 GB
  • A mail server for up to 250 users

So the total necessary disk space can be calculated as shown in Table A.

Once you know how much space is necessary you must choose how to allocate the space into file systems, or raw disk space. Raw disk space is disk that is allocated for use, but does not show up as a file system. Database servers often use raw disk to improve their access speeds.

By default the Solaris install will allocate to file systems, / and /swap. / will contain all the Solaris operating system and usual directories such as /usr, /var and /bin. /swap will be used as a file system for tmp and for virtual memory used by the operating system. By default /swap is allocated 512 MB.

The /var file system is also the default location for core files. Core files are what are created by system crashes, in order to diagnose system faults.

If you are planning to install the database server in /var, which is often the default for many applications, you will need to allocate extra space in that file system. So you need to choose how to layout the file systems and their sizes. Additionally, the mail server will require space for the server and temporary files, and the inboxes for all users. It is possible to allocate a fixed amount of space for user mail files in order to avoid filling a disk.

Table B shows the file system map we will use for the example installation.

Notice some of the file systems are larger than the calculation shown above. The reason for this is to allow growth of the files without having to reallocate disk space. Sun recommends using a 30% over allocation for system files. This should avoid having to reallocate disk space for future upgrades.

There is a great deal of theory which goes into planning a file system initial allocation, such as expected growth and disk quotas. The specifics of how the allocation show above was created will not be covered here.

The addition of the new file system from Sun, ZFS, makes the accuracy of the planning less critical, but it is still important to consider the allocations and expected growth rate, along with the available physical disk spindles, and application disk usage.

One other consideration as mentioned above is how much swap space is necessary. It is always possible to add swap space using another physical part of a disk, even after the initial allocation. A commonly used rule of thumb for deciding on swap space is twice the amount of physical memory. You must take into to consideration the amount of memory system processes need, and the amount of memory for each user processes and the amount of memory an application will use.

In the case of our installation with 512 MB of main memory, I recommend the 2x physical memory choice, so the swap space will be 1 GB.

Swap space is critical to the system, because it is used as virtual memory for the operating system. If the system runs low on swap space it can get into a situation called thrashing. This is when the operating system spends all available cycles on reading and writing swap, and never time slices user or other system processes. The system effectively hangs when it runs out of swap space.

The last information necessary before installing is system set up information, such as networking, time zone offset, and languages to be supported. If you are not using DHCP you will need detailed network information such as:

  • IP address
  • Subnet mask
  • Type of name service, such as DNS, NIS, YP, and the details for which ever service you will be using, such as DNS Server IP address
  • Default route for network requests
  • Host and Domain Name

For purposes of this example we will be installing a system which does not use DHCP, will support only US English, and will be located in the Mountain Time Zone of the United States.

Most of the information needed can be obtained from your network administrator.

Don't leap without looking

There are a lot of details to be considered when preparing to install a Solaris operating system. While Sun has simplified the installation procedure, and has even automated a great deal of it, an install takes a lot of advanced preparation. If an installation is completed, but was not well planned some times the only way to recover is to reinstall the operating system.

This article has attempted to cover the minimum basic items which must be considered before an installation. Some of these items are specific to Solaris. Some are good things to consider for any type of operating system installation.

Each administrator will have their own opinions and their own experiences which will dictate considerations they make before an installation. Use the above as a guideline to start planning an installation. The Sun website and Solaris documentation offer in-depth analysis of all the topics presented here, and other topics which might be considered for an installation.