Red Hat users invited to test RHEL 5

Red Hat has pushed out the first public beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, an upgrade to its operating system that includes virtualization technologies intended to help companies get more use from their hardware.

The company had said it would ship the final version of the product by year's end, although it's unclear now if Red Hat will meet that target. RHEL 5 Beta 1, which was released Friday, was originally due to ship in July, with a second beta expected in September.

The beta slipped because the company decided to wait for a later version of the Linux kernel, 2.6.18, to be finalized, according to Joel Berman, product management director for RHEL. He said it wasn't due to a memory management issue, as had been rumored, although there may have been a few memory bugs as well, he said.

The final product will come ship around the end of the year, "maybe a month before or after," he said. A second beta will be released before that, probably in about a month. "For Red Hat the most important thing is that it works," he said.

The beta is aimed primarily at existing subscribers to the Red Hat Network. Non-customers can try out the software but they have to contact a local Red Hat office or apply at http://www.redhat.com/rhel/details/eval/ (The page says RHEL 4 but Red Hat says it's for RHEL 5 as well).

The beta is for testing purposes and Red Hat emphasized that it's not intended for production use. It's asking for feedback to hone the final version, and wants to hear about how it is implementing the open-source Xen virtualization technology in particular.

Xen allows companies to run multiple operating systems on a server at the same time, making better use of computing power that's often otherwise left idle. Virtualization on mainframes has been around for a long time, but it's now being adopted on lower-end servers as well as they become more powerful.

Novell Inc. has already incorporated Xen into its Linux distribution, Suse Linux 10 Server, released in July. And Microsoft Corp. has said that Windows Longhorn Server will be compatible with Xen-enabled versions of Linux, allowing customers to run Linux and Windows side by side on the same server.

Red Hat has developed its own Xen management tools for installing guest servers and other tasks. Today the tools are only for the Xen hypervisor, but the company is backing an open-source project called libvert that could lead to tools for managing other virtualization environments as well, such as VMware Inc.'s. The project is described at http://www.libvert.org/.

No final decision has been made about pricing but Berman didn't rule out that customers using the virtualization technology could be charged more for their support contract. "I can't say for sure yet; there are some huge financial advantages for customers who move to a virtualized environment," he said.

While much has been made of the virtualization technology, Red Hat focussed a lot on improving security and features for developers as well, Berman said.

The version 5 beta include the disk dumping tool Kdump, which can shorten reboot times and is handy for developers who have to restart systems several times a day, and it includes the SystemTap and Frysk analysis and development tools.

It also includes a technical preview of what Red Hat calls its stateless Linux technology, which reduces dependencies on individual clients to makes it easier to reinstall a system image and a users files in the event of a system failure. The company has also made numerous tweaks and improvements to its support for network storage, clustered file systems and Infiniband.

The capabilities are "important in bolstering Red Hat's credibility as a heavy duty server O/S," said Gary Barnett, a software analyst with Ovum Ltd.

"It's good to see support for Xen appearing, despite Red Hat arguing only a few weeks ago, when Novell included it in their release, that it wasn't ready," he said.

The server OS is available for most of the popular hardware platforms; availability for the client OS is more limited. Details are at https://www.redhat.com/archives/rhelv5-beta-list/2006-September/msg00026.html.

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