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Master RHEL 7.3 before you consider RHEL 8

RHEL 7.3 offers high security, reliability and performance. Discover how to navigate GRUB 2 and system, and learn which distros work best for Docker, among other tips.

Winter is coming and so is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 -- but no one knows when exactly. In the meantime, familiarize yourself with RHEL's current platforms to use RHEL efficiently. RHEL 7.3 provides a significant amount of improved features and will likely be used for years to come. Here are five tips that will help you to navigate RHEL's tools, pitfalls and improvements.

RHEL 7.3's new features point to RHEL 8's future

In 2016, Red Hat released RHEL 7.3, which focuses on security, reliability and performance. Now, Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) makes it possible to override a system module with a higher-priority custom module and gives admins more control of policies. RHEL 7.3 also saw improvements to the OpenSCAP workbench in the form of Atomic Scan, which understands the underlying container architecture and adds container vulnerability detection.

RHEL 7.3's improvements address needs for video conferencing, voice over IP (VoIP) and SaaS and expand support for high-speed, low-latency devices, such as nonvolatile memory. Linux experts believe that RHEL 8 will focus on the industrial internet of things, due to RHEL 7.3's support for Bluetooth Low Energy devices and the Controller Area Network bus protocol.

Navigate two new challenges of RHEL 7.3

RHEL 7 introduced two significant changes -- GRUB 2 and systemd -- that play a role in the Linux boot process. Systemd is a system manager that can start services, initialize hardware, mount file systems and perform other tasks. Linux admins generally use systemd on a daily basis and should first understand the concepts of target units and wants before working with the tool.

GRUB 2 only presents new challenges during the reboot process, which can occur as infrequently as every two years. But a lack of understanding of GRUB 2 can lead to significant damage to a system. Admins may need to change GRUB 2's configuration, which they can do by accessing /etc/default/grub.

Compare RHEL support with major cloud providers

Running RHEL in a public cloud has major benefits. You'll deal directly with the cloud provider and won't have to go through the process of RHEL installation. But before you use RHEL in the cloud, it's crucial to understand the differences in support options from the major cloud providers.

Google Cloud Platform offers RHEL 7.2 and charges $69.75 per month in the U.S. central region for a RHEL image with a 10 GB disk file attached. Paid packages include enterprise-level support and range from $150 to $400 per month, depending on the promptness of response time, availability of the support team and method of communication. Microsoft Azure charges about $76 per month in the U.S. central region for an A1v2 image, which includes one core, 2 GB RAM and a 10 GB disk size. The company offers support plans that range from $29 to $300 per month. Amazon Web Services is the only major provider that currently offers RHEL 7.3. A t2.micro instance with one CPU core and 1 GiB of RAM is eligible for the free tier, and you'll pay for everything else depending on the type of service.

RHEL 8 will require a Btrfs alternative

Although Docker can run on nearly every Linux distribution, there are some factors to consider when selecting the best distro for your IT organization.

When Red Hat releases RHEL 8, the company will also cease development of the Btrfs file system. Btrfs uses copy-on-write (COW) technology to ensure that new blocks don't overwrite old blocks and back-references to ease the repair process. But recently, Btrfs has earned a negative reputation, mostly due to new features that are not stable enough to use and its lack of the fsck utility.

Btrfs won't go away completely when Red Hat releases RHEL 8; a variety of major companies, such as Facebook and Oracle, continue to use and develop the file system. But RHEL users can look for alternatives. Both XFS and Ext4 are valid options. Like Btrfs, XFS uses COW technology, but it struggles with small files, such as mail server workloads.

Determine the best distro for running Docker

As container adoption increases, it's important to know how to run Docker in a Linux environment. Although Docker can run on nearly every Linux distribution, there are some factors to consider when selecting the best distro for your IT organization. If you will dedicate the server to Docker containers, a container-specific distribution may be the best option because it offers stability and high security. RHEL Atomic Host, which includes Red Hat support, is one container-specific option. It removes all functionalities from RHEL that are unnecessary to run Docker containers.

If container-specific distros aren't the best fit, find a distro that fits your business needs. Eliminate desktop-specific distributions, and determine whether your priority is ease of use, security or support. Although RHEL is a pricier option, it offers the best security and support. When you purchase RHEL software, you'll automatically receive enterprise-level support. It's simple to install Docker on RHEL; just remember to enable the Extras repository first.

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