Novell Previews Features in SUSE Linux Enterprise 11
Published: March 25, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Novell hosted its annual BrainShare event last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, and probably the key announcement that the company made to the 5,500 attendees at the event and the untold numbers who participated secondarily through the Internet was the preview of some of the features and development plans (in the absence of features) in the upcoming SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 operating system. But don't hold your breath waiting for SUSE Linux 11, since it is not coming to market any time soon, apparently.
The exact timing for the launch of SUSE Linux 11 is difficult to pin down for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 (SLES in the Novell lingo) server variant and the companion SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 edition (or SLES) will be based on a future Linux kernel, which has not yet had its own features completely hammered out and code tested. Specifically, Novell is shooting for SLES 11 and SLED 11 to include the Linux 2.6.27 kernel. The latest stable version of the Linux kernel is Linux 188.8.131.52, and the 2.6.25 kernel is in release candidate 2 testing now; the original SLES 10 from July 2006 used the Linux 2.6.16 kernel and the SP1 update to it that came out in June 2007 used a tweaked version of the Linux 2.6.16 kernel.
But the situation is a little more complex than just absorbing a Linux kernel with virtualization being so central to the operating system now. Which is probably why roadmaps that were being shown by Novell and IBM to mainframe shops as SLES 10's announcement in July 2006 was impending put SLES 11 coming out in mid-2008 or so. These roadmaps (which I did not even see until this week) are no longer valid, but they are interesting nonetheless, and they put SLES 10 SP2 coming out in the first quarter of 2008 with SLES 11 coming out in the second quarter of 2008 (it looks like late in the quarter, maybe in June), to be followed up by a SLES 10 SP3 update in short order. These same roadmaps showed SLES 9 being killed off ("end of life," meaning no more feature updates or security patches) in August 2011, with SLES 10 getting the ax in the second quarter of 2013 and SLES 11 being put out to pasture in the second half of 2015. Considering that Novell has committed to a seven-year support life for each SLES iteration, it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that SLES 11 was supposed to happen later this year. We still have not seen a SLES 10 SP2, and the first quarter has come and gone.
For one thing, Novell has to coordinate with the open source Xen hypervisor community, and that has slowed up SLES commercial releases because Xen has not cooked as fast as any of the Linux distributors have liked. And now, having bought systems management vendor PlateSpin last month, Novell has to figure out how to integrate this software (which can monitor and manage both physical and virtual servers) very well with its Linux distro or there wasn't much point in acquiring PlateSpin in the first place. Good systems management can drive a certain amount of sales, but Novell really wants synergies between its Linux and the security, management, and development tools it packages.
The important thing as far as enterprise customers are concerned is that they will have lots of time to figure out what SUSE Linux 11 is, since it probably will not ship now until 2009 or 2010.
So what it is coming in SUSE Linux 11? Well, Novell is hinting that it will do its generic SLES server variant as well as a SLERT version for real-time computing and a SLED variant for desktops and laptops. There is also some talk of an appliance variant--you might call it SUSE Linux Appliance Server. Novell is committing to adding new high availability and networking features to the future release. In addition to the Linux 2.6.27 kernel, SUSE Linux 11 will include support for the OpenAIS cluster communication protocol for server and storage clustering; SLES has had server clustering infrastructure called Heartbeat since the SLES 9 days a few years ago, but OpenAIS support will take it up another notch. So will the inclusion of the Oracle Cluster File System 2 (OCFS2) file system and an implementation of the distributed replicated block device (DRBD), which is akin to providing RAID 1 mirroring for storage devices at the network abstraction level instead of at the array level down inside the server or storage system. DRBD does not require shared storage, which means it can be used for physically different and distributed servers. Novell is also committing to have SUSE Linux 11 make the most use of the OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED) software stack, which provides open source drivers for Ethernet and InfiniBand networks that implement the Remote Direct Memory Architecture (RDMA), which allows devices on a network to reach directly into the memory of their peers, thus reducing latencies and speeding up performance.
On the virtualization front, Novell says that SUSE Linux 11 will incorporate the Xen 3.3 hypervisor, which is the future version of that open source hypervisor. It is interesting to note that Xen 3.3 currently has an open-ended delivery schedule, which may be why Novell has to be a bit more vague about when it can get SUSE Linux 11 out the door than it might like. Anyway, among the many new features in Xen 3.3 are improved virtualization of I/O devices on servers that are equipped with chips that take advantage of the hardware-assisted virtualization electronics in modern X64 processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. Like other Xen implementers, Novell is keen on having Linux, Windows, and maybe even NetWare and Solaris virtual machines created within SLES 11 be portable to partitions running inside Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor on Windows boxes. (That is what all the compatibility talk within the Xen community and Microsoft is all about.) Novell is also hinting that it will provide a virtual appliance tool and that this will integrate with its ZENworks and PlateSpin management tools.
SUSE Linux 11 will also include the updated Mono 2.0 open source implementation of the C# programming language and the CLR runtime environment embodied in the .NET software stack. Novell previewed this at the beginning of BrainShare last Monday.
Novell is also looking to pit SLES 11 against Sun Microsystems's Solaris Unix, which is the volume leader in the Unix market and which is also the only major Unix that is open source. With the support for OCFS2, which is POSIX compliant, and the Linux Standard Base standards, which seek to bring POSIX compliance to the Linux stack, Novell is trying to position SLES as a better alternative to Solaris. Novell is also going to provide better integration with the service processors inside today's servers with SLES 11, helping to make it more robust and easier to monitor as it is running and debug after something on the system crashes. Novell was not specific, but it would be interesting to see if SLES 11 gets a backport of the DTrace dynamic tracing tool that Sun created for Solaris, one of the key differentiating features that Sun touts for its Unix. There has been no word that this effort is underway at Novell.
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