What is IPS?
In previous releases of the Oracle Solaris platform, administrators used SVR4 packaging to install software onto a system, and then they used a different set of commands to install patches to update the system. As Oracle Solaris evolved to include new technologies, such as Oracle Solaris zones, Oracle Solaris ZFS, and Solaris Service Management Facility (SMF), previously used processes for managing system updates and upgrades became more complex. With thousands of operating system instances installed in some of today's large virtualized data centers, manual methods of tracking and installing patches can result in errors that negatively affect application availability and security.

IPS is an integrated solution that helps automate and ease the complexity of managing system software on Oracle Solaris 11 by integrating patching with package updates. It relies on a network-centric and efficient approach with automatic software dependency checking and validation, and it builds on the foundation of ZFS as the default root file system. Using IPS, administrators can easily and reliably install or replicate an exact set of software package versions across many different client machines, and get a much clearer understanding of any differences between software versions installed on a system.

With ZFS's ability to snapshot and clone a given file system with little or no overhead, IPS establishes a much safer system update by applying changes to a clone or alternate boot environment so that updates can be done while a system is running services in a production environment. When a planned maintenance window can be scheduled, administrators can simply reboot the system into the new boot environment to get up and running faster with much lower system downtime. If administrators experience any problems with a new environment, they can simply bring the system down and back into the older boot environment.

Source: Introducing the Basics of Image Packaging System (IPS) on Oracle Solaris 11
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