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RHEL 7 roadmap reveals Linux container advancements, Docker integration

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 brings forth Project Atomic, kernel improvements, deeper Windows Active Directory integration and simplicity.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 includes a lot of new features that have IT pros pouring through documentation and sending recaps to their higher-ups, but Red Hat's goal is to make RHEL boring.

"It's the opposite of OpenStack, where new releases come to market every six months," said Brian Stevens, CTO of Red Hat Inc., open-source OS developer. "Only hypercritical changes merit new version numbers. Otherwise, you'd drive IT guys crazy updating their deployments."

While companies such as Microsoft have promised faster operating system (OS) updates, Red Hat has slowed the release cycle for its flagship OS distribution and to lower operational costs. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) development targets a consumable OS and simplicity.

"Users costs aren't just the OS cost," Stevens said. "It's all the costs of configuration, management and provisioning that far outweigh technology replacements."

RHEL 7 contains its excitement

The RHEL 7 release includes kernel enhancements to natively map with the hardware, such as non-uniform memory architecture mapping and support for up to 5120 logical CPUs and 64TB of physical memory. Other enhancements simplify upgrades from earlier versions of RHEL, and help format the OS for the workload, whether a database server, Web server or other use.

"I'm skipping 6.5 and upgrading straight from RHEL 6.4 to 7," said Stephen Eaton, a Linux systems administrator for DealerTrack Technologies, Inc., an automotive industry software provider. "It has the features I was looking for."

One such feature is kPatch, which allows administrators to patch the kernel without rebooting servers. Eaton's environment is 24/7, so scheduling downtime is a big deal. He also likes the security and systems management and the ease of use improvements to SELinux.

RHEL has also grown more compatible with Windows OS, as evidenced by Active Directory interoperability in RHEL 7 and more approachable management tools. The question used to be Linux or Windows on servers; now Linux and Windows OSes coexist in the data center, according to the company.

"We will be able to sync Windows domain controllers with RHEL 7 for easier identity management," said Eaton, whose shop uses Windows and Linux on a mix of virtualized and physical servers.

Project Atomic to create RHEL variant

Red Hat debuted a new community project to develop technologies for creating lightweight Linux Container hosts. Project Atomic will allow creation of a new variant of RHEL -- Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host -- as part of RHEL 7.

RHEL 7 also abstracts and isolates applications by deploying them in containers with RHEL Atomic Host. It has strong integration with Docker, which allows applications to be packaged in isolated containers.

RHEL 7 containers keep applications from fighting over resources, which version of Java to use or other factors. The application takes as much of the OS as it needs to be able to move around and perform equally on bare metal, virtualized servers and private and public cloud infrastructures.

North and southbound APIs let the OS interact with the host infrastructure and the application, while providing security and management services. Data centers can virtualize the OS and run the applications in containers atop the virtualization layer to improve standardization in a typical mixed data center, Stevens explained.

Attendees at the Red Hat Summit here this week need some time to digest this Linux container methodology. At the RHEL roadmap session, the majority of attendees said they either see Linux containers at least one year from meaningful adoption in their infrastructure, or couldn't envision a use case.

"Containers have been around for some time," said Sander van Vugt, Linux consultant and trainer, who writes for SearchDataCenter. At first sight, containers as the major new thing in RHEL 7 was surprising, he said. "Considering that in RHEL 7 containers are combined with Docker, systemd and cgroups, it ... is a big step forward for easy deployment of applications," on cloud or straight RHEL systems, he said.

Red Hat will update RHEL Atomic Host alongside Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and Red Hat OpenStack for application consistency across all hosting infrastructures. Project Atomic will feed RHEL Atomic Host.

RHEL 7 release candidate version goes live this week with a final release sometime thereafter. The pricing structure will be similar to previous versions, but pricing was not provided.

Red Hat's roadmap for Fedora, CentOS

Red Hat continues to push new features and concepts into Fedora and filters the packages that pass muster into new versions and point releases of RHEL. The company also had its largest beta testing community to-date -- 10,000 RHEL users -- for version 7.

Red Hat also flipped the relationship between the CentOS operating system and RHEL this year. CentOS is an OS for big data, for software-defined networking, Stevens said, and the end users don't need or want the same kind of support that goes to RHEL users.
CentOS development now goes ahead of RHEL, rather than trailing the Linux distribution, giving Red Hat more feedback to parlay into new RHEL editions and also increases the cloud-friendly, OpenStack nature of RHEL over time.

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