Novell Delivers Service Pack 2 for SUSE Linux
Published: May 27, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Commercial Linux distributor Novell got Service Pack 2 for its SUSE Linux variant of the popular open source operating system out the door just before the holiday and just as rival Red Hat launched its own 5.2 release of its Enterprise Linux distribution. Once again, Novell is pushing the envelope, offering more scalability for servers and a more recent update of the Xen hypervisor compared to the RHEL alternative.
Novell has tried to stay ahead of the Linux juggernaut, Red Hat, on the technical front to help give it some leverage in the commercial space and was the first to offer support for an integrated Xen hypervisor when SUSE Linux Enterprise Server shipped in July 2006; ditto for support for large numbers of processors and cores in symmetric multiprocessing servers and math libraries specifically tuned for Linux. The early embrace of Xen was commendable, but support for Windows atop the integrated Xen implementation as well as for earlier SLES releases and RHEL releases lagged expectations and it is debatable how much this helped Novell. The company's November 2006 deal with Microsoft is yet another attempt to get some leverage over Red Hat, with Microsoft distributing SLES licenses and the two companies working on interoperability between SUSE Linux and Windows.
With SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 Service Pack 2, Novell is in fact laying claim to providing the only Xen-based server virtualization product that has full support from Microsoft for Windows Server 2008 guests and live migration of those guests as well as and Windows Server 2003 guests between Windows and SUSE Linux physical servers running their respective virtualization hypervisors. Novell had already put together a set of drivers for fully virtualized and paravirtualized Windows guests as part of Service Pack 1, which was delivered in June 2007, about six months behind schedule because of issues with the open source Xen hypervisor project. (This was more Xen's fault than Novell's, to my eye.)
And when Microsoft finally ships the "Viridian" Hyper-V hypervisor for Windows Server 2008 (which is expected about six months after the February 27 launch of the new operating system, which means late August and probably early September after the Labor Day holiday), Novell will be touting the fact that it can offer "bi-directional compatibility" between the Xen hypervisor in SLES 10 and the Hyper-V hypervisor in Windows, fully certified and supported by both Microsoft and Novell. (I happen to think this is possible because Hyper-V actually is a variant of the Xen hypervisor--something that Microsoft has never copped to.) In any event, with Service Pack 2 for SLES 10, Novell has put the Xen 3.2 hypervisor into production, compared to the Xen 3.1.2 support in RHEL 5.2.
What Novell has not officially supported yet is the Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) alternative to Xen, which is an open source project based on QEMU and a number of other tools that are being commercialized by Qumranet for virtual desktop serving. According to Michael Applebaum, senior product marketing manager for SUSE Linux Enterprise at Novell, the company is looking at its alternatives and is keeping an eye on KVM, but has made no commitment to support it. Red Hat and Ubuntu, by contrast, are adopting KVM as an alternative to Xen, as have a number of other Linux players.
The SP2 update runs on the same Linux 2.6.16 kernel that the original SLES 10 release and its SP1 update uses, and that kernel will not be changed until SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 is launched. As we previously reported, SLES 11 will be based on the Linux 2.6.27 kernel and will support the Xen 3.3 hypervisor, the OpenAIS cluster communication protocol for server and storage clustering as well as the Oracle Cluster File System 2 (OCFS2) file system, an implementation of the distributed replicated block device (DRBD) (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), and support for 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 allows devices on a network to reach directly into the memory of their peers, thus reducing latencies and speeding up performance. Novell has not said precisely when SLES 11 will ship, but expects to deliver it in the first half of 2009.
Significantly, customers are not going to have to wait until SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 to get better clustering support. SP2 for SLES 10 also includes the Heartbeat2 cluster management services and OCFS 2. This high availability clustering is particularly important for Unix shops running mission-critical applications who want to migrate to Linux, according to Applebaum. While SLES 10 SP2 will not have support for the OFED 1.3 software drivers, Applebaum says that when SP2 is made available for SUSE Linux Enterprise Real Time within the next 90 days, it will. In essence, this feature is being moved forward from the generic SLES 11 release to SLERT 10 SP2 because the subset of customers (mostly financial institutions and embedded systems suppliers) need it.
The SP1s for SLES 10 and SLED 10 already supported the quad-core "Barcelona" Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices, and ditto for Intel's current quad-core Xeons. SP2 has support for the "Santa Rosa" Centrino Duo and Pro laptop processors and Novell is currently working on the kicker "Montevina" Centrino 2 laptop chips for future SUSE Linux releases. While SLES 10 SP1 and SP2 runs on IBM's new Power6 processors, which have AltiVec math units and decimal math units, it is unclear if SUSE Linux SP2 supports these; ditto for the impending "Tukwila" octo-core Itanium processors. IBM's new quad-core new z6 mainframe chip in the System z10 servers was already supported with SLES 10 SP1, even though the machine wasn't announced for another nine months.
As part of the SP2 launch, Novell is also revamping its Customer Center patching and updating software with a new satellite service called the Subscription Management Tool (SMT). Basically, this is a variant of Novell's internal Customer Center patching server that customers can run inside their own firewalls on a Linux box of their own choosing, thereby allowing servers and desktops running SLES 10 or SLED 10 to update themselves inside the corporate firewall instead of reaching out across the firewall to Novell's own servers. The offering is similar to Red Hat's satellite service for its Red Hat Network support servers. The SMT server will be available within 90 days.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 got an SP2 update as well, and includes OpenOffice 2.4 Novell Edition, which has additional Visual Basic macro support in the Calc spreadsheet and new audio and video support in the Impress presentation application. The updated desktop also includes a technical preview of the OOXML-to-ODF translator, which will be part of SUSE Linux 11 and which is being developed in conjunction with Microsoft.
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