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Why does Solaris take so long to install?

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It’s a common complaint, and it’s a very valid one. No one could ever accuse the Solaris installation process of being speedy. Even with all the CD swapping,the IRIX install is faster – and that’s saying something.

Each time the Solaris package installer, pkgadd, adds a new package, it rewrites the entire contents of /var/sadm/install/contents – in order. This is how the package manager keeps track of the package manifest, and this is a design flaw going way back to the days when AT&T and Sun came up with the idea of SVR4 UNIX. They just didn’t plan for over 10,000 files spread across over 1,000 packages, which is what a normal install of Solaris slaps down.

A potential solution that was floated for Solaris 10 was to use SQLite to handle the package database, but that uncovered another problem – performance tanked even further on small memory systems.

The real solution? Stop using flat files – but that’s an architecture decision that has lots of consequences for backwards compatibility. OpenSolaris is addressing this with an entirely new package management system. So far it’s looking pretty slick.

In the meantime – what to do? Install from flash archives – flars – and preferably via Wanboot. I’ll be blogging more about those two technologies shortly, but they can have a hugely beneficial impact on your Solaris estate.

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