RHEL 5.1 update tweaks virtualization, Windows interoperability

Red Hat's RHEL 5.1 update will modify the Xen paravirtualization capabilities added to the OS, but don't expect Microsoft Windows guests until the end of the year.

For more on Red Hat Enterprise Linux:
Red Hat author dishes on RHEL 5

RHEL's KVM vs. Feisty Fawn's KVM
For all intents and purposes, the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5), Red Hat's flagship enterprise Linux operating system, was billed as a success by industry observers and end users.

Many lauded RHEL 5 for its advancements in virtualization management, storage, security, application server development and deployment. At the same time, however, when XenSource Inc.'s paravirtualization functionality was first introduced with RHEL 5, it was clear that it needed fine-tuning.

"In general the [major] Linux distributions have now put basic virtualization functionality [in their latest releases]," said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based research firm Illuminata Inc. "Red Hat did not put it in as aggressively [as Novell] partly because of the RHEL release cycles. It's not half-baked … but it certainly doesn't have the fit and finish we see with VMware."

RHEL 5 gets spit and polish
Enter the 5.1 update, which is currently wrapping up beta testing and is due out later this quarter. According to Red Hat executives, 5.1 addresses the virtualization concerns raised by the Red Hat community following the launch of RHEL 5.

If Red Hat can get their Windows drivers out soon, I think they will be well positioned to pick up significant market share.
Jim Klein,
director of information services and technologySaugus Union School District

"The big thing on the Xen side is the ability to do live migrations of fully virtualized guests," said Joel Berman, director of product management at Red Hat. Paravirtualized drivers for virtual guests as well as drivers for RHEL 3 and 4 will also be included in 5.1, although similar functionality for Windows guests will not be included, he said.

"Those guests run in Microsoft software and then talk to back-end drivers that the hypervisor understands. They should be available before the end of the year," Berman said.

Jim Klein, director of information services and technology at the Saugus Union School District in Saugus, Calif., said RHEL 5.1 is a "significant improvement over version 5 on the management side of things," Klein said.

That said, the Windows functionality is critical for Red Hat not just to implement, but to implement well; IT managers are making decisions now about which platform to base their virtualized infrastructure on, Klein said. "If Red Hat can get their Windows drivers out soon, I think they will be well-positioned to pick up significant market share in the coming year," he said. (And for an in-depth look at what could be coming to RHEL soon, read Jim Klein's Enterprise Linux Log guest blog post on Xen and Fedora 7.)

Virtual guests with RHEL 5.1
"[Red Hat] always had live migration of Linux guests, which has been their primary focus for Xen, but they are now incorporating much of the Xen 3.1 functionality as well, such as live migration of fully virtualized guests, 32-bit guests on 64-bit hosts, etc.," Klein said in an email.

Klein also noted that version 5.1 has dramatically improved the networking setup and that "a much more robust feature set in the GUI [graphical user interface] management tools is a welcome addition."

Finally, Klein said the Windows drivers are already included in the latest Fedora 7 updates but he hasn't had a chance to test them yet. "They are clearly sticking to the timeline they suggested at the Red Hat Summit, in that they won't be releasing the paravirt drivers for Windows until after the 5.1 release," Klein said.

Haff said that there's no need to worry about the pacing of Red Hat's releases or about virtualization management for the Linux OS in general. "This is a point release, so we're not talking about major changes [to the OS]," he said. "Linux itself is becoming fairly mature, so at this point in general we will begin to see these updates as more tweaking and polish rather than widespread, wholesale functionality upgrades."

RHEL goes beyond Xen
Red Hat's virtualization focus goes beyond just Xen, as Berman also touted libvirt, an open source virtualization application programming interface project geared toward interoperability of other virtualization technologies Kernel-Based Virtual Machine (KVM), Qemu , and XenSource Inc.. KVM is a Linux kernel infrastructure for supporting virtualization. Qemu is a processor emulator that allows full virtualization of a PC system within another one.

Libvirt has also been added to other Linux distributions including Debian and Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10.

Berman said Red Hat launched the open source project to protect end users from compatibility problems that could emerge as Xen and KVM battle for enterprise acceptance.

Linux-Windows interoperability
RHEL 5.1 will also see Windows interoperability improvements in the areas of Active Directory support, Kerberos authentication and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), and the latest version of the open source file and print server application Samba (version 3.0.25), Berman said.

"While we prefer that people don't use Active Directory [AD] as their overarching directory service, if they do use it, we can now provide single sign-on and other features through AD and so on," he said.

Again, Haff said that this kind of tweaking is now the norm for all major Linux releases striving to be considered serious contenders in the enterprise data center. "Companies today are heterogeneous environments. Most big companies and organizations have Linux, and they have Windows, and they'd like them to be able to work together in fairly basic ways," he said.

Email Jack Loftus with your comments and suggestions.

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