ServersSLES, Now Leading in 2.6 Kernel Race

SLES, Now Leading in 2.6 Kernel Race

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SUSE Linux Enterprise Server: High performance, high availability enterprise Linux distribution based on the 2.6 kernel

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 is a feature-rich offering with a state-of-the-art kernel and a strong YaST-based administration environment. For enterprises looking to stay at the crest of the Linux wave, it offers a first-to-market advantage.

One of the most notable qualities of Linux is also one of the main causes of confusion: malleability. It’s more than the simple fact that there is no one single “Linux.” After all, even proprietary operating systems like Windows are available in multiple versions. Linux is a core (and, in particular, a kernel) around which an operating system is built. Thus, a Linux operating system can be very small, as is the case with those used in adaptations for embedded environments like handheld devices, or a Linux operating system can be very big, such as versions used for enterprise operations.

Novell, which acquired the German Linux company SUSE in 2003, has positioned itself as the main competitor to U.S. Linux leader Red Hat and just this week reorganized to reflect the integration of those assets. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 (SLES) is Novell’s premier Linux distribution and is the first enterprise distribution to contain the 2.6 Linux kernel.

SLES 9 fills six CDs and consumes more than 3 GB, assuming the disk images are downloaded. SUSE relies on its exclusive YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) graphical front end to guide installation and system management.

YaST is also the administrative heart of SUSE Linux. Despite the large number of Linux distributions available, intelligent and visual installation and administration tools have long been lacking. SUSE has evolved YaST over several versions, and, despite the unassuming name, it is one of the most comfortable graphical Linux administration environments available.

On the initial install, YaST inventories the machine and suggests an install plan that includes details as minor as language and time zone and as major as hard disk partitioning and which server features to install. The slick interface enables the administrator to easily modify any of these strategies before beginning the installation. Intelligently designed templates allow for quick decisions of whether to install a fully graphical workstation or a text-only server that consumes minimal resources. The admin can also manually tailor which packages will be installed. And, with Auto YaST, a chosen installation strategy can be deployed across a number of servers without human intervention.

Disk space requirements vary considerably, depending on the install strategy. SUSE recommends a at least 500 MB for a minimal system and 4 GB for a standard install.

In general, the Linux distributions share many of the same packages. Like others, SLES 9 features graphical desktops (KDE and Gnome) and the fairly standard array of server and database packages (Apache 2.0 and 1.3, MySQL, PHP 4.3, FTP, Samba, and so on). Version 9’s main differentiator is that it is built around the 2.6 kernel.

For enterprise applications in particular, the 2.6 kernel features many significant enhancements over the previous 2.4 kernel. It includes developments aimed at high-powered servers, such improved memory sharing for multi-processor systems and support for Hyper-Threading. The new kernel has also received major boosts in the amount of RAM and number of physical devices that can be addressed. Because 2.6 is a preemptible kernel, it can more efficiently handle heavy I/O loads and other system intensive tasks. 2.6 also features NPTL or Native POSIX Thread Library, which gives a big boost to multi-threaded applications running on Pentium Pro or higher processors.

Ultimately, all of these improvements boost the usefulness of the software designed to meet enterprise management needs that ships with the operating system. The software covers areas like high availability fault tolerance, scalability across clusters, and event and intrusion monitoring.

The feature list goes on, but the executive summary is that SLES 9 benefits significantly from being built around the new 2.6 kernel. Of course, other enterprise Linux distributions will eventually incorporate this kernel as well — Novell’s selling point, however, is that SLES contains 2.6 *now*.

Red Hat, SUSE’s main competitor, hasn’t laid down its arms, though. While the vendor does not plan to release its enterprise server with 2.6 kernel support until some time in 2005, it has retroactively incorporated many of 2.6’s enterprise features into the current 2.4-kernel-based distribution.

For the enterprises looking to stay at the crest of the Linux wave, SLES 9 is a feature-rich offering with a state-of-the-art kernel and a strong administration environment in YaST.

Pros: Comprehensive feature-rich distribution; Wonderful YaST install and administration environment; Enterprise-ready 2.6 kernel.
Cons: Yearly pricing scheme is truly enterprise-centric, and leaves us wondering if Novell will sustain its commitment over the long term.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 9/1/2004
Original Review Version: 9.0

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