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Novell sees enterprise demand for real-time SUSE Linux

Alex Barrett
At the Gartner Data Center conference yesterday, Novell Inc. announced its second-generation real-time Linux operating system: SUSE Linux Enterprise Real Time 10, aka SLERT.

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The previous version has been generally available since last fall, and according to Moiz Kohari, vice president of engineering within Novell's Open Solutions Group, is installed at more than 100 customer sites, including an increasing number of Wall Street financial services firms.

Real time equals better response time
Real-time operating systems have traditionally been used as the foundation for applications like flight control, simulation, data acquisition and process control. But increasingly, financial applications like databases, feed handlers, algorithmic trading applications, and very large clusters that require time synchronization need the guaranteed performance of a real-time operating system, Kohari said.

Compared with time-sharing systems that dominate enterprise computing environments, a real-time operating system is distinguished by deterministic performance, explained Gordon Haff, principal analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. "A traditional time-sharing OS tends to be optimized around characteristics like total throughput," Haff said. "But with a real-time OS, it's almost all about responding to an event within a specific amount of time."

Novell SLERT includes the following core functionality:

  • Application isolation, such that no other process or thread will impact the performance of a critical application. "We shield an application by isolating resources and providing it to a specific process," Kohari said. Resources might include CPU, memory, or enabling network quality of service (QoS).
  • Priority inheritance – the notion that a high priority process trumps a lower priority process. Traditional time-sharing operating systems cannot make similar claims.
  • Integration with key real-time tools, such as Concurrent Computer Corp.'s NightHawk debugging and analysis tool.
  • Integration of the latest OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution 1.2.5, enabling support for InfiniBand and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. "We see high-speed interconnects being highly leveraged across the data center," Kohari said.
The functionality included in Novell SLERT 10 is derived from the work of many members of the Linux open source community, including Novell, but also Red Hat, IBM and MontaVista Software Inc., which makes embedded Linux operating systems for the telecommications and embedded-device markets. Beyond code, Novell's contribution has been to "productize" the real-time Linux OS. As such, SLERT has gone through Novell's QA process, is binary-compatible with other SUSE Linux distros, and is fully supported.

With a real-time OS, it's almost all about responding to an event within a specific amount of time.
Gordon Haff,
principal analystIlluminata Inc.

It's also more expensive. Available now, a yearly support subscription for SLERT 10 is priced at $2,500 per server, compared with the $350 to $1,500 that Novell charges for its standard Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server distributions.

Linux a real-time fit?
Illuminata's Haff said that the advent of real-time extensions, plus the general performance improvements of commodity x86 hardware, have combined to make Linux a viable platform for applications that need "real-time-ish" features.

"In practice, a lot of features have been added to normal Linux that improve its real-time capabilities," he said. "Add to that that hardware has gotten faster, so now you have a situation where a relatively mainstream operating system like Linux can handle most real-time tasks," Haff said.

That hasn't always been the case. "In the past, you couldn't afford the overhead of using Unix [for real-time tasks.] You needed a stripped-down hot rod tuned perfectly for the application," Haff said.

Now, assuming the application in question "isn't absolutely deterministic, OSes like Linux can do a pretty good job."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director.


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