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Red Hat outlines roadmap for RHEL 5.4

Red Hat Vice President Tim Burke says the RHEL roadmap will focus on large-scale virtualization and management features with the release of RHEL 5.4.

CHICAGO -- Red Hat Inc. kicked off its Red Hat Summit by outlining the roadmap for its flagship Linux operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4.

Tim Burke, vice president of Red Hat Enterprise Linux engineering, provided details about RHEL 5.4 during a discussion of Red Hat's roadmap.

"Our recent focus is making system administration more centralized and easier to provision," Burke said. "And our virtualization strategy is the foundation that enables you to have flexibility in data center deployments."

RHEL 5.4 offers users the option of selecting Xen or KVM as a hypervisor as part of the install process, giving users the opportunity to experiment with KVM while continuing to fully support Xen, he said.

Red Hat also added new application programming interfaces (APIs) for advanced virtualization management services, like dynamic provisioning and live migration, that are now in beta and will be released later this year, Burke said. The virtualization management tools are an optional add-on service, but the APIs are included in the operating system; the APIs will work with either Xen or KVM, although they have been more optimized for KVM, he said. The tools also will help users migrate from Xen to KVM, but Red Hat is downplaying that use because the company has committed to continued support of Xen through at least the RHEL 5 lifecycle, until the next full release.

RHEL 5.4 has also been optimized for the latest Intel and AMD chipsets, Burke said. Because the new chipsets can assign device driver resources directly to virtual guest instances, the guest no longer has to route requests through the host, cutting virtualization overhead from as high as 30% to as low as 5%, he said.

"Previously, system administrators often concluded that the overhead was too big a price to pay for virtualization, but now that it's down to 5%, they may be willing to trade off the overhead loss for the gains in flexibility and migration," Burke said.

Red Hat's optional MRG (Messaging, Real Time and Grid) applications also have been upgraded in RHEL 5.4 with grid scheduling tools for assigning workloads to server pools, possibly benefitting cloud computing environments.

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RHEL 5.4 also contains device drivers for Fibre Channel over Ethernet, enabling customers to migrate to a single cable for networking and storage and replace their dedicated storage infrastructure, Burke said. RHEL 5.4 also includes an update to SystemTap network and application diagnostics, which help sys admins pinpoint network bottlenecks, he added.

Burke said RHEL 5.4 also improves Red Hat performance as guests on VMware, including a system clock timing adjustment to boost accuracy. And Microsoft and Red Hat both are continuing to work on certifications that will enable Red Hat guests to run well on Microsoft Hyper-V and vice versa, he said.

As for KVM, Burke said Red Hat has spent "a huge amount of time" optimizing it for i/o and efficiency and is currently running much of its own internal infrastructure, including mail servers and file servers, on KVM.

"We don't just build it; we run with it," Burke said of KVM. "We wouldn't be shipping it if we didn't think it was ready for prime time."

KVM's vendor ecosystem "can't be as robust as Xen's on day 1," but Red Hat is seeing "a lot of interest" in key OEM partners and large customers, and Red Hat is doing all it can to promote that interest, Burke said. "I think we'll see increasing adoption."

OS improvements are nice, but virtualization hypervisors steal the show
David Pullman, a system administrator with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said he thinks RHEL 5.4 is an incremental release without any big bells and whistles. NIST is getting ready to get start a virtualization initiative and Pullman came to the Summit to learn more about Red Hat's new plans in general, and KVM and SPICE desktop virtualization in particular, he said.

Michael Cote, an analyst with Seattle, Wash.-based Redmonk, said it's hard for anyone except an OS geek to get excited about new releases, but Red Hat's new tools and user interfaces are "impressive.".

What stands out about RHEL 5.4 is its inclusion of the KVM hypervisor within the operating system, which ultimately this should help Red Hat, Cote said. But Red Hat faces tough competition in the virtualization market and customers aren't going to rush to adopt KVM until Red Hat is forthcoming with the promised virtualization management tools later this year, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Leah Rosin, Site Editor.

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