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SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 with SP1 improves power efficiency, virtualization

SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 SP1 delivers improvements to OpenOffice compatibility on the desktop, and virtualization and power management controls for enterprise servers.

Novell has just released Service Pack 1 (SP1) for their SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 11 and Server (SLES) 11 products with a focus on high value and low cost. Both SLED and SLES have a common code base with the open source openSUSE distribution. For the commercial release, Novell has added a number of proprietary pieces along with improvements contributed to open source projects like OpenOffice. They also put SLED and SLES through a much more rigorous testing regimen to ensure the final released version measures up to the expectations of the enterprise market. SLED also comes with default settings such as the firewall configured for maximum protection.

SUSE desktop improvements
Linux on the desktop just hasn’t made much of a dent in the Microsoft juggernaut that many hoped it would. That’s not to say you won’t find any number of corporations trying to make it work. It’s not completely out of the question to see a change in attitude toward alternatives with the US economy continuing to sputter along. You don’t have to look at the numbers very hard or long to figure out that SLED is significantly cheaper than a Microsoft equivalent, even without figuring in the cost savings of OpenOffice.

Novell’s latest release of OpenOffice is version 3.2 and contains a number of improvements not in the main distribution including improved compatibility with Microsoft Excel, enhanced support  for Visual Basic macros and more. Visual Basic compatibility is a big deal for many enterprise customers with libraries of macros for automating typical corporate paperwork functions. You can also program OpenOffice in other languages such as BeanShell, Javascript and Python.

SLED comes with Mono 2.0.1 preinstalled making it even easier to port corporate applications developed with Microsoft’s .NET platform. Novell provides a number of tools for corporate developers to test and debug their software from within Microsoft’s Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The Mono Migration Analyzer (MoMA) will analyze .NET applications to determine if any incompatibilities exist that would prevent the software from running on Linux.

List prices are competitive for a typical subscription ($50 for SLED vs $80 for Red Hat Enterprise Linux desktop), you can expect them to be closer for volume purchases. The one thing you won’t find on a standard RHEL desktop install is the Mono runtime. You won’t find it as an option on the Mono website either. If you want it, you’ll have to install it using some command line magic.

Server and virtualization updates
Novell’s SLES operating system has garnered more attention than its desktop sibling. Much of that attention is due to the wide range of supported hardware platforms including the biggest mainframe offerings from IBM. SLES 11 SP1 uses an updated 2.6.32 kernel with many improvements targeted specifically at high-end hardware.

The increased emphasis on virtualization can be seen right from the opening installation screens. If you’re installing into a virtual machine environment, you’ll be asked which of three options you wish to use from a normal guest to a fully parallelized environment like Xen. SLES 11 SP1 supports the latest 4.0 version of the Xen hypervisor along with full support for KVM. It ships with SUSE Linux Enterprise Virtual Machine Driver Pack, a set of drivers to improve the performance of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual guests.

You’ll find many similarities when comparing SLES to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Both companies go to great lengths to provide the widest array of support for enterprise-class hardware. SLES and RHEL run both run on IBM System z mainframes and many, if not most of the same multi-cpu systems. Red Hat has made KVM the default virtualization option with the RHEL 5.5 release. SLES offers both Xen and KVM as options.

SLES 11 SP1 has a few features hidden way down in the lowest levels of the OS for saving on the power bill. Novell and HP have collaborated on the development of the Processor Clock Control (PCC) driver linking the operating system (OS) to the hardware capabilities of HP's BladeSystem and Proliant servers. HP's Power Regulator feature has been available for some time but has previously run independently of the OS. With SP1, this feature can be dynamically controlled by the OS and driven by specific user configurable policies.

Novell’s SP1 release of version 11 of SLED and SLES brings incremental improvements in stability and performance along with a number of enhancements like the PCC driver to a solid product. Overall, I find that a seasoned support organization backed by a solid development team provides low risk to Novell customers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ferrill has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and has been writing about computers for over twenty years. He's had articles published in PC Magazine, PC Computing, InfoWorld, Computer World, Network World, Network Computing, Federal Computer Week, Information Week, and multiple Web sites.

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