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
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
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,"
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
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