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What to expect in version 7 of Red Hat Enterprise Linux

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July 5, 2012

From the outset, it looks like Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) new version 7 will be based on Fedora 18, which is due for release sometime in November.

The first public beta of RHEL 7 is scheduled for the first half of 2013.

The Linux vendor provided these and several other details of upcoming and planned new products at its Red Hat Summit and JBoss World 2012 Conference held in Boston last week.

But there are still various details to be ironed out in the plans for the next generation of RHEL, however. On Btrfs, for example, Red Hat manager Jim Totten said that they are watching the development of the filesystem and will offer support in RHEL when it is ready. Btrfs is still marked as experimental in the kernel.org website, but has been supported in SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) and RHEL derivative Oracle Linux since April of this year.

Btrfs can be used in RHEL 6, but it is marked as a technology preview, meaning that Red Hat takes no responsibility if it is unstable in any way.

Additionally, Red Hat has not released any concrete information about the actual level of support for Btrfs. Red Hat says that RHEL 7 will support ext4, XFS and Btrfs for both data and boot partitions. Whether ext4 will remain the default filesystem or be supplanted by Btrfs is still unclear, however.

The presentation slides include further information on enhancements planned for the next generation of RHEL. Version 7 should fully support Linux containers (LXC). No specific plans for ARM support in RHEL were officially presented, but Red Hat staff have pointed out that Fedora already runs on ARM.

Red Hat is also reported to be working with Linaro to improve Java performance on ARM. The presentation also discussed some of the modifications that have found their way into the recently released RHEL 6.3 and even RHEL 5.8, as well as some of the updates planned for RHEL 5.9 and 6.4, respectively.

The highly informative presentation, in which various Red Hat managers explained all the new features in their areas, is available as two 50 minute long videos on the Red Hat site.

The two videos also offer wide-ranging background information on many other products. A number of other slides are also publicly available which cover various topics. For example, two videos on "Performance Analysis & Tuning of Red Hat Enterprise Linux" provide the Linux community with information on performance tuning which may also be of relevance for other distributions too.

Among the videos is a recording of a presentation giving an overview of the company's Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) virtualization product. Much of that presentation is taken up with describing new features planned for RHEV 3.1. It will fully support the platform-independent web administration portal, which will mean the demise of the old Internet Explorer-based administration interface.

Live snapshots and live storage migration are also planned, though the latter will only be included as a technology preview. The enterprise cloud was a frequent topic of discussion among delegates and was also covered in a number of presentations.

Shortly before the conference, Red Hat firmed up its plans for marketing its OpenShift platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and presented four private and hybrid cloud products at the conference. An overview of these and other cloud products and services can be found in the presentation "Red Hat Cloud -– Present, Future & Benefits".

Details of version 2 of the GlusterFS-based Red Hat Storage Server, which was unveiled at the conference, can be found in Introduction to Red Hat Storage, Red Hat Storage Roadmap & Future Directions, Red Hat Storage Performance and Distributed File System Choices: Red Hat Storage, GFS2, & pNFS.

According to Red Hat, the in-house event continues to grow, with more than 3,000 delegates making the trip to Boston this year. The next Red Hat Summit and JBoss World will take place from June 10 to 14 2013, also in Boston.

In other news from the Linux community

A recently added leap second inserted to Linux servers crippled software running some of the world’s largest airline reservation systems, either delaying or cancelling flights alltogether.

Servers running the Amadeus Altea ticket reservation system were brought down soon after an extra second was added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) at midnight on Saturday, June 30th. The added second was inserted at the discretion of time scientists to keep UTC systems synchronized with the Earth's slowing rotation in the past year.

The Altea system was taken offline for about an hour, and staff at Quantas and Virgin Airlines had to check in passengers manually, disrupting several flight plans.

A spokesperson for Amadeus Altea confirmed that the service outage had been caused by a glitch in the Linux kernel of the operating system. The bug was triggered by the leap-second change on Saturday night. He said the issue has been sidestepped using a workaround within an hour, but Amadeus is still investigating how to avoid and detect similar flaws in advance, in an effort to prevent such things from happening again.

Servers run by Mozilla, StumbleUpon, Yelp, FourSquare, Reddit and LinkedIn were also reported to have been affected by the same glitch. Mozilla said its implementation of the Java-based Hadoop data processing framework wasn’t working correctly on Saturday evening, which triggered the issue.

Mozilla’s Eric Ziegenhorn posted at 0517 Pacific time, minutes after the leap second was added: "Servers running Java apps such as Hadoop and Elastic Search doesn't appear to be working properly. We believe this is related to the leap second happening tonight because it happened at midnight GMT."

But it’s the Altea service outage that was by far the more troubling. Amadeus provides the backend booking and reservation system for a growing number of the world’s largest airlines. Amadeus claims it is the world’s second largest processor of online reservations while it is reported to handle over 25 percent of the world’s 84,200 daily flights.

Amadeus claims that about 135 airlines have implemented its Altea reservation system. More than 100 airlines have acquired Altea inventory and 60 use Altea departure control. The Altea system was rewritten from a mainframe application in 2004 and moved to Unix-like systems in a response by Amadeus to keep up with changing demands.

First implemented in 2005, Altea is a set of software modules for booking and reservations that run on Linux and Unix servers, using Java Enterprise Edition, Spring and Apache. The leap second was added to compensate for the Earth’s uneven rotation by the International Earth Rotation and Reference and System Service.

UTC is now the time standard for all clocks, devices and timing applications, as well as POSIX-compliant operating systems, and a second is periodically inserted since December 21st, 2010.

There’s traditionally been three ways of implementing the change. Various Linux distributions such as Red Hat and CentOS published a fix for its Enterprise Linux and other software patches for other flavors of the operating system are still circulating.

It is believed that the leap second that was added causes the Linux kernel to 'livelock' when the system attempts to adjust the time and date of the server, causing CPUs to go out of control and creating an endless loop, paralyzing the whole system.

For its part, Google has modified its internal NTP time servers to gradually add a couple of milliseconds to its regular clock adjustments during a specific window before the actual leap second is required. So far, Google claims that it hasn't had any such issues on its system.

In other Linux news

Designing and integrating a commercial Linux distribution that makes enough money to cultivate R&D and innovation in the enterprise segment isn't easy. And if you're going after the enterprise sector of the business, your release also needs to be rock solid, fully tested and very stable. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) delivers on all of that, and 2012 marks its 10th birthday, today in fact. RHEL, the commercial-grade Linux operating system that the company created in 2002, in the wake of going public on the dot-com boom, wasn't Linux for grown-ups.

RHEL emerged from the craze for Linux company IPOs that went hand-in-hand with the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Red Hat went public in August 1999 and Linux simply has gone crazy with Red Hat, as the first big Linux distribution offering real commercial support, and yes, by real humans.

At that time, Red Hat had lined up partnerships with Compaq (long since acquired by Hewlett-Packard), IBM, Oracle, Computer Associates, and a few others in the operating systems segment of the business after Linux was enthusiastically embraced years earlier by MIT, Cal Tech, academics and supercomputing labs the world over.

Linux, being open source and in anyone's control, made the Unix wars irrelevant and the world still wanted the promise of open systems, which was only partly accomplished.

And it got open source to boot. Linux quickly became the system that ran on all cylinders, whether server makers or PC makers liked it or not. It simply didn't make any difference.

RHEL was founded through the merger of Bob Young's ACC Linux, a software utility supplier for Linux and Unix tools founded in 1993, and Red Hat Linux, a popular Linux distribution created by Marc Ewing, the original Shadowman who roamed the halls at Carnegie Mellon University.

But make no mistake-- this wasn't a company you would have guessed would be valued at $19.7 billion by Wall Street in the December following its initial public offering. But there was a reason why a company that only generated $10.8 million in its fiscal 1999 year ended in February just exploded when it went public later that year.

But after Red Hat's stock came crashing back down to earth, and Wall Street with it, what was left was a company that was a credible threat to the Unix, Windows, and proprietary system incumbents that had an army of enthusiastic coders who were not so much interested in getting rich as they were in being right and to have their peers concede that they were.

And you might not have guessed it, but at that time, Red Hat would be the first company founded on open-source software to break through $1 billion in annual sales and have $1.3 billion in the bank. Not a small feat to accomplish by any standards.

And it almost didn't happen-- here's why: Matthew Szulik, Red Hat's president and chief operating officer and eventually chief executive to Young as chairman, led Red Hat to the IPO and through it, but the bleeding edge nature of the original Red Hat Linux was an anathema to a company trying to establish a commercial operating system business that was stable and safe in the eyes of the corporations that would shell out cash for that support.

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The idea was to make Linux as good and familiar as Unix, which garnered the lion's share of system sales during the dot-com boom era-- a little less than half of all systems sales worldwide were driven by Unix at the time.

So in 2001, Szulik hired some expert Linux technicians and coders with deep backgrounds at Digital Equipment Corp-- Paul Cormier, who became executive vice president of engineering and is now president of products, and Brian Stevens, who was brought in to manage the Linux distribution and who is now CTO at the company.

And among many other things that they have done, Cormier was part of the AltaVista search engine team-– the thing we all used and loved before Google came along-– and Stevens was one of the few core developers for the X windowing system and Kerberos security, and the sole architect in charge of Tru64 Unix at DEC.

What they wanted to do was to simply convert 'Old' Red Hat Linux and turn it into Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). And they did, very successfully.

"We were all faced with a really hard decision back then, and we really bet the farm on this and it paid off in a billion ways. We made a decision to stop Red Hat Linux, which at the time was the most popular, hobbyist Linux operating system out there. It was a very, very unpopular decision with the engineers and with some people in the Linux community. The engineers asked the CEO to simply fire me at the time. There was a lot of confusion and insecurity at that time at Red Hat."

The same engineers named it Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and the idea behind it was to make Linux more palatable and useful for the corporations that ultimately pay the bills. At that time, says Cormier, Linux was only used by the most technically savvy companies, and only in their technical and IT departments.

"What we did to allow Linux to be consumed by the masses was to combine the open-source model with the enterprise product model, and while still keeping the open-source mantra," says Cormier. "The real science of the RHEL model is getting these backports into the kernel without breaking compatibility and stability."

This is how most operating systems work these days and why operating systems seem to be progressing at a snail's pace compared to ten years ago. Linux vendors and users alike don't want new versions and the new application certifications they require.

If Cormier had to do it all over again, RHEL might have come out concurrently with Fedora, the upstream development release of Linux that eventually became RHEL these days. But it didn't start out that way.

"I'll be perfectly honest with you," Cormier concedes, "Fedora was a reaction to RHEL to make sure we continued to service the Linux community. RHEL gave the predictability and stability that enterprises really wanted, but the open-source community was really concerned that they were going to lose something on the bleeding edge. The Linux community rallied around that bleeding edge, and that in turn is what drives Red Hat. RHEL came first, and then Fedora, and if we had been smarter, Fedora would have come first. But that's just life."

And this just goes to demonstrate that you don't have to get it right the first time in business. But you do have to fix it when you get it wrong, and to Red Hat's credit, when it was at risk of alienating the Red Hat Linux community by developing RHEL, it backed up and started Fedora.

And in the end, this is a better model than either the community or the company could do alone, and one that fits both enterprise customers and hard-core developers.

Source: Red Hat.

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