Fedora Core 5: Virtualization-capable and ready to go

If you're into paravirtualization and Xen capabilities, then Fedora Core 5 is preferable to CentOS and the latest release of RHEL, says Paul Hudson, co-author of "Red Hat Fedora 5."

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If you're into paravirtualization and Xen capabilities, then Fedora Core 5 is preferable to CentOS and even the latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, says Paul Hudson, one of the co-authors of Red Hat Fedora 5 (Sam's Publishing).

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Kickstart Fedora workstations and servers

Fedora Core 5 offers significant improvements over the previous version -- like strong Network Manager tools, F-Spot, Beagle and Tomboy -- straight out of the box. In this interview with Paul Hudson and his brother Andrew Hudson, another Red Hat Fedora 5 co-author, find out what to watch out for when using Kickstart and introducing FC5 to your IT shop.

How does Fedora Core 4 differ from Fedora Core 5?

Paul Hudson: Version numbers usually don't mean much, particularly in a world where most people expect distros to be released every six months or so. But the jump from FC4 to 5 is a big one, and it is more than just a refresh to include new program versions. From the user's point of view, sure, there's Gnome 2.14, KDE 3.5, plus an updated kernel and lots of other goodies, but there are some worthwhile new additions:

  • Xen is particularly welcome, as is the switch to Yum for both the installer and the package management system.
  • Core 5 is also the first Fedora release to bundle Mono as standard, which delivers Beagle, Tomboy and F-Spot out of the box to users.

Andrew Hudson: Fedora Core 5 marks the first real separation from the Red Hat identikit theme, giving Fedora it's own unique look and feel.

One of the key benefits of switching to FC5 for me is the inclusion of the excellent Network Manager tool, which makes switching between wireless networks and hotspots a doddle.

Do you think Fedora Core 5 is enterprise-ready? What does it have to offer IT shops?

PH: I wouldn't say that any version of Fedora is really "enterprise ready," because it's not really one of the goals of the project.

Fedora is designed to be a distro that contains the latest software, with frequent releases so people get the update hit they crave. Like any Linux user, I love getting a new distro to try, because the sprinkling of magic -- the bit that makes a distro more than the sum of its parts -- is where a lot of uncredited innovation gets included.

If you're looking for a true "enterprise-ready" version of Fedora, you should be looking towards Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its seven-year lifecycle. If the price scares you off, there's always CentOS, a freely available version of RHEL.

One reason for choosing FC5 over CentOS or the current release of RHEL is its excellent implementation of Xen, but this is only of interest if you fancy the idea of paravirtualization or VT-enabled hardware virtualization.

AH: Fedora 5 is certainly enterprise ready, having access to a plethora of software for deployment in mission-critical circumstances. But I'd strongly recommend looking at one of the true Enterprise distros such as CentOS or RHEL, because each version of Fedora is only supported for a maximum of 12-18 months. Any community-based distro undergoes rapid development, and Fedora is no exception to this. Although you could get away with running a couple of Fedora boxes to handle edge of network functions, I'd suggest and recommend having it in place as a development platform or test environment.

What are some tips you can offer IT managers who are considering Fedora deployment?

PH: Well, before offering any tips I'd remind them that Red Hat describes the Fedora Project as being "for developers and high-tech enthusiasts using Linux in non-critical computing environments". If the IT manager hears that and still wants to go ahead, then great -- Fedora is very easy to deploy and use on workstations and servers alike.

The first thing to ask is, 'Are you using Linux already?' If so, chances are that hardware detection won't be a problem. If it works in your existing distro, then it's likely to work fine in FC5. If you're currently running Windows, Unix or a mix of the two, you may have some hardware issues (such as graphics drivers or printers). The best place to find out more information about this is at the Fedora hardware compatibility list.

The second thing to consider is whether your existing systems are capable of coping with Linux systems. Not all Linux software is open source, which means you may need to run license audits on your new Linux desktops. Similarly, do you have antivirus software that runs on Fedora? Yes, Linux is much more secure than Windows, but basic user error applies to both Linux and Windows!

Finally, managers need to put some thought into their application deployment on Linux. If they have in-house apps, can they be ported to Fedora? Programs written in Java usually work very well, as long as you install the official Sun Java runtime over Fedora's own free implementation. But if you have software specifically written for Win32, you need to either to try your luck with WINE, resort to virtual machines with VMware or something similar or port it to something that works across platforms. The Mono release in FC5 is great for many applications but suffers with Windows.Forms code; that should be fixed in FC6, all being well.

AH: Certainly, the primary piece of advice I would give is to be patient.

Not all end users have experience with Linux, but thanks to work that has gone into X and Gnome, it now looks more user-friendly than ever. It's best to start by switching the end user to applications that are included in Fedora and are available on the current platform. Firefox, OpenOffice.org and other Fedora applications are available for Windows and Mac OSX. Installing these applications for users makes the jump that little less daunting.

I would definitely recommend an incremental deployment, targeting easy-win scenarios, which allows you to deploy Fedora without end-user awareness. Internal intranet servers are good candidates for this, as are file and print servers.

What should IT managers watch out for when using Fedora?

PH: It can take a long time to install Fedora across a number of machines, but a simple fix is to use Kickstart.

AH: The one thing to look out for when using Kickstart is to try to ensure a standard hardware base. It's no good setting up the perfect Kickstart.cfg if you then have a hundred PCs with different graphics cards and hard drives, let alone network drivers!

The other thing that IT managers should really be careful of is any talking down of the migration project by end users. A lot of people are really used to using Microsoft-based software, and change can be a hard thing to bring about if it is not managed and prepared for effectively. Just going with Fedora because it is free is not enough for end users; they need to have tangible benefits if they are to buy into moving to Fedora.

This was first published in July 2006

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