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Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 Storms the Enterprise

Oct 22, 2003, 13:00 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

The culmination of two years of code work and product enhancement dedicated to finally closing the gap between UNIX and Linux functionality has finally arrived with today's release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.

Red Hat, Inc. made the announcement effective midnight this morning, but much about the product is already known, thanks to the Raleigh, NC company's beta releases and early product reviews in the media. Still, there has been some strong anticipation in the official release, as enterprise customers continue to seek out how to effectively employ Linux in their IT operations.

There are three major advances in the new RHEL3 product line, which consists of the AS, ES, and WS flavors. Brian Stevens, VP of Operating System Development, summed up these advances in an interview this week.

The volume management for RHEL3 has been greatly improved, Stevens stated; a feature that Red Hat feels was a definite necessity for those UNIX users who were hesitating to migrate to Linux due to the lack of this capability.

Also enhanced is RHEL3's multi-threading capabilities. The server now uses POSIX standards to increase threading capacity from 2,000 simultaneous threads to something more like 30,000-plus threads. This enhancement, Stevens explained, was very necessary for anyone running large Java instances, since multi-threading capacity is directly related to Java performance.

Red Hat has also beefed up its flagship product's scalability, both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, the product is now available on at least four platforms in all of its flavors--with the AS product available on a dizzying seven architectures: Intel x86, Itanium, AMD64, IBM zSeries, iSeries , pSeries, and S/390.

Releasing on seven architectures at once is a new event for Red Hat, since in the past RHEL architecture variants were released on a staggered schedule. Because of Red Hat's new devotion to working with a single set of source code, the company is able to simultaneously build for the different platforms and maintain the same features for the various architectures as time goes on.

Vertically, Red Hat has certified RHEL3 to run on up to 32 prcessors (up from eight that 2.1 could officially manage). The memory limitations have expanded as well, with RHEL3 being able to handle 64 GB of memory, as opposed to RHEL2.1's 24 GB.

The kernel address space limitation of 1 GB has been exploded up to 256 GB, Stevens said, while application address space limits have jumped from 3 to 4GB per app. This latter may not seem like a great deal, Stevens explained, but since the number of servers needed to run an application is directly tied to the amount of space available to that app per machine, shifting address space up 33% means a company can run 33% less servers for major apps.

All of these enhancements are aimed towards a goal that Stevens emphasized repeatedly during the interview: the further attraction of existing UNIX users who could have come over to Linux save for the lack of these strong features. These UNIX organizations have pretty much been the major target for Red Hat since the company's inception, Stevens said. Only in the last year or so has Red Hat started targeting Microsoft server shops.

The ability to sell to UNIX shops seems pretty intuitive. Selling to Microsoft users is a bit more tricky. After all, Stevens said, if they are using Microsoft now, they probably didn't want UNIX in the first place, so cheering Red Hat Linux as a better UNIX is not likely to work on them.

Instead, Stevens explained, Red Hat has found in that the best approach has been to emphasize the ability to run on the Intel platform and the open nature of Linux that allows users to avoid vendor lock-in. Thus far, this simple approach is working pretty well.

Another area that is just opening up as a new market for Red Hat is the telecommunications industry, which is "becoming revitalized," Stevens said. Red Hat is focusing heavily on carrier-grade enhancements into its future product line. Already, many carrier-grade features are within RHEL.

"Two-thirds of what OSDL is specifying for carrier grade are features we already have," Stevens said.

Back in the present, Red Hat, like other Linux vendors, has found itself under increasing attack from proprietary software companies (read: Microsoft) on issues such as TCO and security.

Stevens dismissed Microsoft's recent TCO claims pretty handily. "They tend to find the right data to support then answers they want."

As for recent claims on the unreliability of security patches in Linux, Stevens seems almost amused by Microsoft's assertions.

"That's really amazing that they say that, since that kind of rapid software patching is something we have been doing with RHN [Red Hat Network] for years," he said.

Still, Stevens does not take Microsoft's constant misrepresentations about Linux lightly at all. While enterprise customers are savvy enough to see through the painted perception of Linux developers as a bunch of t-shirted hobbyists living in their parents' basement, small- to mid-sized business users may still carry that misperception.

RHEL3 will run on a modified 2.4.21 kernel set. While Linux 2.6.0 is almost ready for final release, don't expect to see 2.6 source code in any RHEL product until RHEL4 comes out in the planned 12-18 month release period.

"2.6 is the next big thing for Linux," Stevens said, "It's not the new things that are enabled so much as the technology that's getting cleaned up."

Still it will take Red Hat at least a year to stabilize the kernel and customize it to fit within RHEL products. Instead, expect to see 2.6 source in the Fedora product line within three to four months of 2.6.0's final release.

"By the time things are stabilized, it will be time for RHEL4," Stevens declared.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 is available now as part of an annual subscription that includes Red Hat Network and services. Current Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscribers can upgrade now via Red Hat Network. Red Hat OEM partners will deliver Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS, ES and WS in pre-configured hardware solutions in the next 30-60 days.

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