Leading Linux distributions have matured to the point where requirements for new features and functions have been overshadowed by the need to tune the operating system for scalability and other enterprise necessities.
But, as Linux continues to make rapid gains and inches its way toward data center ubiquity, the specter of Unix continues to loom large.
Research and consulting firm D.H. Brown Associates Inc. released the results of its third Linux Function Review last week. The report shows the gains made by Linux since the last review, in 2001, as well as the gaps that still exists between Linux and Unix when it comes to enterprise readiness.
Review author Tony Iams, vice president and research director, evaluated SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 and Debian GNU/Linux 3.0. He rated each for its support of 167 items in five areas: scalability; reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS); system management; Internet and Web application services; and directory and security services. The three Linux distributions, which are all based on Linux kernel 2.4, were compared with the leading Unix systems: AIX 5L 5.2; HP-UX 11i; Solaris 9; Tru64 Unix 5.1; and UnixWare 7.1.3.
Iams expects another review upon release of the 2.6 kernel. In the meantime, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 either tied or surpassed Red Hat in every category, with particular gains in system management, Internet and Web application services, and directory and security services. Debian GNU/Linux 3.0, meanwhile, was a steady third in every category, tying for second in a few places. While all of the Linux distributions evaluated surpassed the weakest Unix systems, none measured up to the leading Unix systems.
SuSE and Red Hat were neck-and-neck in scalability, piggy-backing on the 2.4 kernel's improvements in share-memory multiprocessing (SMP). Iams noted strong benchmarks on eight-way SMP servers including SAP-SD and SpecWEB99. SuSE supports IBM's pSeries p690 server, which scales to 32 Power processors in SMP. Hewlett-Packard Co. also posted strong database TPC/C benchmarks with an eight-node Red Hat cluster and Oracle 9i. Unix, however, continues to hold the edge in enterprise server scalability and workloads.
The Linux systems also made inroads in stability, with Red Hat Advanced Server benefiting from its high-availability clustering technology and SuSE benefiting from its ability to integrate with partitioning technology on IBM pSeries and iSeries servers. But the review points out that Unix still leads in stability and reliability.
SuSE led in system management because of its YaST2 administrative tool and its support for Logical Volume Management (LVM). It is also the only distribution to include an advanced event logging system. Red Hat does not include the LVM functionality, but it did score with its multisystem management capabilities of the Web-based Red Hat Network management services.
Iams also noted Linux's support for Web applications. He said the distributions have better support for advanced Internet protocols than many Unix systems. Red Hat and SuSE scored well because of their ability to support leading J2EE application servers.
As for the directory and security services evaluation, Iams said the three systems include LDAP servers and provide a degree of LDAP integration with operating system services. Unix systems, however, have the edge in advanced directory features, including the ability to virtually store system and application information in LDAP directories, which simplifies management. Unix systems, meanwhile, feature Role-Based Access Control features and many hardened versions that are government certified.
Iams said that, with the Linux 2.6 kernel, he expects improvements in vertical scalability and mainframe reliability. SuSE's "victory" in this review, meanwhile, was attributed to the distributor's inclination to aggressively introduce new functions, Iams said.
"SuSE supports high-end SMP hardware and, with its volume management capabilities, it can manage large amounts of storage," Iams said. "SuSE products have better volume management capabilities today. With the 2.6 kernel, they will all have it. SuSE today has better out-of-the-box storage management."
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