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Kernel maintainer: Linux 2.6 delivering on its promise

Andrew Morton, keeper of the Linux 2.6 kernel, says things are sailing along smoothly. His advice for ISVs and enterprises: start testing applications on the new kernel to remove any kinks before major vendor support is available.

Andrew Morton, 2.6 kernel maintainer, can be forgiven if he's confident about this week's maintenance 2.6.6 release. After all, 2.6 has been getting great reviews all around.

Morton, who said he's handling a fraction of the kernel changes these days, is mucking his way through a heavy load of more than 140 a week.

"This is a large volume of changes, a much higher rate of changes than earlier kernels," Morton told Wednesday afternoon. "We've just got our processes sorted out better now."

 We want to hear back from [ISVs] on important features and how they're working so that our developers can have time to add them to the kernel.
Andrew Morton
2.6 kernel maintainer

The 2.6.6 release, however, is noteworthy on several fronts beyond the usual "kernel speedups and fixups," as Morton said. The kernel's stability continues to improve as it inches closer to its initial promise of enterprise-class scalability and memory management.

"We've shrunken the memory data structures significantly for big x86 machines," Morton said. "They'll have a lot more available memory to play with."

While enterprise decision makers should stay on top of kernel changes, Morton hopes independent software vendors (ISVs) are also testing their applications on 2.6.6.

"My critical concern is that ISVs resource staff to test the vendors on the kernel," Morton said. "We want to hear back from them on important features and how they're working so that our developers can have time to add them to the kernel. We don't want a calamity when they're ready to move over [to 2.6] because they haven't been paying attention."

Morton added that he hasn't heard much from end users on 2.6, but he is hearing from the major hardware vendors like Hewlett-Packard Company, Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) and Intel Corp.

"They all seem happy. The kernel is solid and performance has improved all around, so things are looking OK," Morton said. "They've got it running on some big machines out there."

According to the 2.6.6 changelog, the bug fixes and additions to 2.6.6 include: NTFS, XFS and ACPI updates; POSIX message queues; ext2 and ext3 file system improvements; a laptop patch; 4KB stacks for i386 machines; ReiserFS updates; the lightweight auditing framework; the complete fair queueing I/O scheduler and patches that will ultimately enable object-based reverse mapping and reduce the load on kernel processes, are likely to end up in enterprise Linux releases from Red Hat Inc., Novell Inc. and other distributors.

"2.6.6 is more of a level set of all the work that the community has contributed in It is the most stable and enriched Linux to date," said Sam Greenblatt, chief architect of the Linux technology group at Computer Associates International Inc. "The 2.6 kernel is extremely stable, and we believe Andrew Morton has done an excellent job of incorporating input from [the community]. Its new features are setting up for better memory management and virtualization, which is critical to the scaling of Linux to the largest enterprises."

The new kernel debuted in December to much hype, promising the scalability, reliability and security enterprises need. The new kernel promised support for larger disks, support for more memory on IA-32 architectures and better 64-bit support, IPsec protocols and client-server support for new NFS file systems.

SuSE, recently acquired by Novell, released in March the first commercial Linux distribution based on 2.6, SuSE Linux Professional 9.1. Red Hat, meanwhile, has promised the next version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, due in January, will be based on 2.6. It also recently released a 2.6 version of Fedora. SuSE is expected to follow shortly thereafter with a 2.6 version of its SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Enterprises, meanwhile, are not likely to touch 2.6 until it is supported by major distributors. They should, however, be testing applications on 2.6 in separate environments in anticipation of what is coming.

"There should be no fear because the testing has changed since 2.4, and the 2.6 kernel has under gone extreme tests," Greenblatt said.

FEEDBACK: Is your enterprise testing the 2.6 Linux kernel? What is your opinion of the new kernel and its performance, scalability and stability enhancements?
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