Volume 5, Number 11 -- March 18, 2008

Red Hat Releases Enterprise Linux 5.2 Beta

Published: March 18, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Last week, commercial Linux distributor Red Hat put out a beta version of its forthcoming Enterprise Linux 5.2 operating system, which will sport a number of scalability and performance enhancements for the X64, Power, Itanium, and mainframe platforms that RHEL 5.X supports. The company provided the traditional warning that RHEL 5.2 is only beta code and therefore it is not suitable for production environments, no matter how tempting new features might be, and said further that the beta test would run through May 7.

According to the announcement for the beta put out last week by Red Hat, the RHEL 5.2 beta is based on the Linux 2.6.18 kernel, which allows RHEL 5.X releases to keep application binary interface (ABI) and application programming interface (API) compatibility. To accomplish this, Red Hat has once again done what it has been doing since the Advanced Server days in the early 2000s with the Linux 2.2 kernel, which is back-porting future kernel features back into the then-current commercial grade Linux kernel of the time. In this case, Linux 2.2.24 features are being brought back into the Linux 2.6.18 kernel by Red Hat. This is a beautiful thing, and it is one of the reasons why corporations are happy--well, willing, anyway--to pay for a corporate support contract for RHEL, and it is where Red Hat spends the money it gets. This is particularly significant in that according to Red Hat's techies, the improvements from Linux 2.6.0 to Linux 2.6.24 are in many respects a lot more significant than the jumps from Linux 2.2 to Linux 2.4 to Linux 2.6. Companies do not want to wait for new features, but they do not want to have to go through another test and verification cycle even more. (If you want to be super technical, the kernel in the RHEL 5.2 beta is 2.6.18-84.el5.)

Red Hat is distributing the 5.2 beta in server and desktop variants, including RHEL 5 Desktop for X86 and X64 processors, RHEL 5 Server for X86 and X64 servers, and RHEL 5 Advanced Platform for X86, X64, Itanium, Power, and mainframe servers. Advanced Platform, you will remember, is the full-tilt boogie virtualization version of the RHEL offering. Red Hat warns that the Anaconda package tool will upgrade RHEL 4.6, 5.0, or 5.1 to the RHEL 5.2 beta, but makes no promises that all of the system settings will make it through the upgrade at this point; that's why Red Hat is recommending that testers do a fresh installation if they want to test the code.

On the server front, the big changes in RHEL 5.2 are support for up to 64 processor cores in a single system image (up from 32 processor cores with earlier releases of RHEL 5.X), and the Linux kernel has also been tweaked to allow support for up to 512 GB of addressable memory for a single Linux instance. The beta also has a hypercall interface that allows the Linux kernel to go out a discover NUMA clusters (which is the predominant way that big X64, RISC, and Itanium servers are created these days) and then load the appropriate kernel features to the system. The beta also includes updates for Power6 and mainframe hardware enhancements made recently by IBM, and some tweaks to make RHEL take better advantage of the Cell PowerPC variants better.

There are a number of virtualization enhancements in the beta as well, such as the inclusion of the Xen 3.1.2 hypervisor, additional hardware (servers and peripherals) support for the Xen hypervisor, boosting the number of network interfaces for paravirtualized guests beyond the current cap of three, processor frequency scaling for Xen instances to cut back on power consumption, and various performance and scalability enhancements to Xen.

On the desktop side, Red Hat has tweaked suspend and hibernate functions necessary on laptops to conserve energy, and has also updated the stack of popular desktop applications, including the addition of OpenOffice 2.3.0, FireFox 3.0, Evolution 2.12.3, and Thunderbird 2.0.

You can see all the goodies in the RHEL 5.2 beta right here.

A number of features are included in the RHEL 5.2 beta as technology previews, which means these features will not be added to the official RHEL 5.2 product but Red Hat is giving techies a sneak peek at them so they can give them a test spin and provide some input. Support for 32-bit paravirtualized guests on Opteron and Athlon 64-bit host platforms is being previewed, and so is scalability, performance, and memory enhancements on the GFS2 file system. Support for the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security enhancements as well as for the Systemtap and frysk system management tools are also in preview.

You can get the manuals and code for the beta here if you want to help Red Hat put the 5.2 beta through the paces.


Red Hat to Use Automation, Virtualization to Eat the Server Space

The Low-Down on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 Enhancements

Red Hat, IBM Commit to Better Mainframe Linux

rPath Linux Packages Up Amazon's Grid Computing

RHEL 5: How's It Going?

Red Hat to Push Desktop Linux with Intel Partnership

Brazilian Game Site Chooses Hybrid Mainframe-Cell Platform

Red Hat Integrates and Simplifies with RHEL 5

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