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SLES 12 anchored in enterprise Linux server availability

SUSE's latest version of its enterprise Linux server OS defaults to Btrfs, with several features targeting always-on service.

SLES 12 lures enterprise IT shops onto the Linux server OS with an "always-on" feature set, including Btrfs-based snapshots, live patching and high availability features.

SUSE targets a reliable Linux server distribution with updates designed to ensure uninterrupted services, according to Nils Brauckmann, president of SUSE, speaking at the 2014 SUSEcon conference in Orlando, Fla.

SUSE reported 20% growth in the first six months of financial year 2015, of which over 60% is new business. The latest version of its commercial Linux distribution, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server version 12 (SLES 12), was released in October 2014 to compete with its primary data center rival, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Live patching

Linux kernel updates require server reboots, meaning that Linux administrators don't patch mission-critical or essential servers. Even a few minutes of downtime is often too much in the corporate data center. This leaves too many servers running unpatched software, which makes them vulnerable. Live patching resolves that problem.

Live patching features a familiar deployment method and zero-interruption interaction with the system, according to Matthias Eckermann, senior product manager at SUSE.

The live-patch capability enables IT shops to use Linux servers for mission-critical systems, in-memory databases, extended simulations or quick fixes in a large server farm.

Snapper Btrfs snapshots

Administrators can use Btrfs as the default file system on the root volume in SLES 12, displacing ext3. SUSE eschewed ext4 for the default file system starting with SLES 11, focusing development on Btrfs. Competitor Red Hat included Btrfs in its RHEL 7 release only as a technology preview, without customer support for the file system, defaulting to Ext4 instead.

SLES 12 introduces the snapper utility to recover a failing system with copy on write B-tree file system (Btrfs) snapshots. Snapper lets administrators easily revert to a previous state of the file system based on Btrfs snapshots. SUSE developed snapper into a feature on the Grub2 boot menu that boots into a server's last known working state and saves time on troubleshooting a faulty server.

High availability

The third pillar of SUSE's always-on SLES path is the Pacemaker High Availability clustering format. Pacemaker guarantees that failing services automatically move over to another server in the cluster.

Pacemaker is the leading high-availability solution for Linux; it is also the default on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.

About the author:
Sander van Vugt is an independent trainer and consultant based in the Netherlands. He is an expert in Linux high availability, virtualization and performance, and has authored many books on Linux topics, including
Beginning the Linux Command Line, Beginning Ubuntu LTS Server Administration and Pro Ubuntu Server Administration. He can be reached through his website.

Editor's note: Red Hat was contacted about Btrfs for this article, and a representative stated: "At the time of RHEL 7's launch, Red Hat believed that Btrfs was at a good point for customer evaluation, but that the technology was not at a point of maturity for mission-critical workloads, the latter being the key factor for Red Hat providing full support for technology components."

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What version of Linux is currently deployed on your data center servers?
Call me old school, but I still swear by Debian. I ask nothing of my servers but raw power and the stability of the sun itself. Debian is a pain to set up and commercial support is antsy, but we have our own in-house gurus and Debian makes them very happy. Some of them are former Slackware-heads, so I should be grateful they don't demand that. Once you have Debian trained, maintaining it's a breeze and it's still one of the most secure distros out there. We do also use some Red Hat on the side, mainly for offices.
RHEL7 default is XFS, not ext4 as stated. ext4 was default for RHEL6.