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SunSoft discloses its 64-bit roadmap

64-bit features to be added a step at a time

By Mark Cappel

March  1996
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Perhaps stung by a painful backlash from users who didn't want to change abruptly from a BSD Unix to System V Release 4, SunSoft is taking a cautious, two-year approach in migrating Solaris to 64-bits. "Compatibility" is SunSoft's watchword for Solaris 64, both in terms of backwards compatibility with earlier versions of Solaris 2 and other 64-bit Unixes.

While acknowledging that Digital Equipment (with Digital Unix) and SGI (with its latest version of Irix) have beaten SunSoft to the 64-bit punch, company officials point out that few users require more than 2 gigabytes of addressable memory, which is the most pressing problem faced by users on the bleeding edge of computing.

According David Spenhoff, director of Solaris product marketing, today's Solaris 2.5 on 64-bit UltraSPARC hardware supports 64-bit arithmetic, 64-bit virtual addressing, and file sizes of up to a terabyte each. This, he said, is adequate now for the 2.5 million licensed users of Solaris. But with users creating terabyte-sized databases and simulating complex systems the need for greater address space is becoming an issue.

SunSoft issued the following table outlining its plans for adding 64-bit features to Solaris.

		64-bit Solaris roadmap
64-bit capability			Planned availability
=================			====================
64-bit hardware support			Solaris 2.5
64-bit arithmetic			Solaris 2.5
64-bit kernel asynchronous I/O		Mid-1996
3.7 gigabytes of addressable memory	Mid-1996
64-bit file sizes & offsets		Early 1997
64-bit kernel, addressing		Early 1998 
& file system
(Source: SunSoft, February 1996) According to Andrew Feit, director and principal analyst in Dataquest's advanced desktop and workstation computing group, the interesting portion of SunSoft's roadmap is its later stages when the 64-bit file sizes and offsets increase the maximum file size to a terabyte. "Overall, some people will find the schedule too slow, pointing to other vendors who have full 64-bit today -- SGI, HAL, Digital," Feit said. "But I think this will be competitive with HP's roll-out, and ahead of IBM. Most ISVs are not rushing to support 64-bit, and instead are looking at moving to NT. "Once P7 and 64-bit NT are out, that will change. For the leading applications, they'd like 64-bit sooner, and will either wait for Sun/HP as the market leaders, or in some cases port to one of the platforms that has it now," Feit said.


A single Unix spec
In August 1995, Intel rounded-up the major Unix vendors to get all of them to agree on a few specifications relating to 64-bit computing. After six months of work, the "Aspen Group," as the collective was known, announced it had "reached consensus on the goal of this initiative to seamlessly incorporate 64-bit applications in a single Unix specification." According to a prepared statement, the 64-bit consensus will be added to SPEC 1170, which X/Open now calls the X/Open Single Unix Specification. The Aspen Group agreed to "LP64," a common data representation model, "a common set of extensions to the POSIX Threads interface, dynamic linking interfaces to support the emerging class of extensible self-configuring applications, and agreed to implement common POSIX APIs for software installation user group management." The Unix vendors collaborating on the single Unix specification comprise of industry heavyweights, including Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Novell, NCR, Santa Cruz Operation, and SunSoft.

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