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Solaris 8 Administrator's Guide Paul Watters
Published by O'Reilly
ISBN:0-596-00073-1
400 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 4th February 2002
reviewed by Joel Smith
   in the May 2002 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

According to the blurb, ``This book is for experienced Solaris administrators, as well as those interested in learning about Solaris'' and ``It's written for experienced network administrators who want an objective guide to networking with Solaris.''

I must confess that I do not see how it achieves these aims.

The book starts off with a brief overview of the Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) specification and the Solaris operating system. Chapter 2 starts with fundamental principles of networking and routing covering network classes, TCP/IP routing, the OSI model etc. It then covers inetd, /etc/services, telnet and ftp (but not with any real discussion of the issues surrounding running such services). Considering the remit of the book as stated above, we have two wasted chapters.

Chapter 3, Installing Solaris, is supposed to cover ``the step-by-step installation and selection of basic network configuration parameters''. According to this first paragraph, ``Solaris has three methods of installation: command-line (text based), interactive (menu based), and Web Start (Java-based)''. Yet in the final section of this chapter, we find that ``Solaris provides two ways to perform an installation: interactively or by using the Web Start Wizard''. Paul Watters is unable to be consistent within the same chapter. And what about Jumpstart, or Web Start Flash Installation? These are not even mentioned.

There is the usual mention of preparing various configuration worksheets, and then the book moves on to selecting what parts of Solaris to install. This is an opportunity where you could investigate what packages can be removed when trying to set up different types of server. Unfortunately, there is no mention of this or the complex web of dependencies, and all that you are given is the fact that there are four basic configurations: End User, Developer, Entire Distribution without OEM support and Entire Distribution with OEM support. This is the information you get when you do an interactive installation, but without the benefit of the help text.

The walk through is also lacking in useful information. For a start, the assumption is that the system has a CD-ROM drive and a graphical interface. This is not necessarily the case, particularly when dealing with rack-mounted servers. There is no discussion of the options for network installation. This is more complicated in Solaris 8, since the OS no longer fits upon a single CD. In the actual walk through, there is a fair amount of space devoted to responding to the initial questions (Time Zones etc), yet other issues, such as disk layouts are dashed off in a throwaway half line.

Alas the book continues in this vein, spending too much time on basic information, and omitting or skating over areas that are far more complex, and could do with covering in more depth. For example, in the networking section, there is no mention of logical interfaces (multiple IP addresses for a single NIC), or IP network multipathing which is a Solaris 8 feature allowing failover between two different interfaces, which is useful for resilience. In the Naming Services chapter, LDAP is introduced and covered in three pages, two of which are a verbatim account of what the installation program asks you (assuming you choose Express Installation, and so do not modify anything - what is the point of putting this in? You would find it anyway if you run the installer, and it gives you no additional information). No attempt is made to explain how to actually configure or use the service.

Sendmail is covered in 11 pages, which attempts to explain the intricacies of the sendmail.cf file, without even mentioning the M4 macros which are the preferred way of configuring sendmail. Obviously Costales and Allman were wasting their time when they produced the 1000+ page sendmail ``Bat'' book. Samba is covered in 10 pages. Now sendmail I can understand, as it is shipped by default with Solaris, but the logic of including Samba in a book on Solaris eludes me. This is not to say that I think it is a mistake to run Samba, but more that a book on Solaris Administration should deal with issues to do with Solaris.

I do not recommend buying this book. I think that it is poorly written, and totally fails to meet the needs of the readers it professes to serve. There are some nuggets of useful information, but they are rather few and far between. When Sun's documentation is available to all at http ://docs.sun.com, I cannot see any point in spending the time to read this book, let alone the money to buy it. It is an opportunity missed.

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