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Linux now supports network address translation (NAT) for IPv6

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November 19, 2012

Here's a piece of news that will make most system admins happy-- we've just learned that the Linux kernel finally supports network address translation (NAT) for IPv6.

Other new features also include server-side support for Google's TCP Fast Open (TFO) acceleration and a tethering driver for Apple's popular iPhone 5 smartphone.

The Linux kernel developers have merged the support for network address translation (NAT) with IPv6 into the Linux kernel (1, 2 and the others). A number of Linux developers have also previously questioned the utility of doing so, since NAT is unnecessary with the much larger address space offered by IPv6.

With its much broader address segment and other features, IPv6 renders many of the reasons why NAT was much used with IPv4 but is now considered by most in the Linux community as moot and unecessary.

But despite all that, developers have now merged this feature just the same, since the specification for NAT with IPv6 avoids some of the issues which dogged the IPv4 system in the first place, and it turns out that there are some use cases in which NAT for IPv6 can still prove useful, nevertheless.

Some Linux users and institutions, for example, would like to use NAT to keep their internal network topology completely opaque to the outside world. Also, hosting companies that use the BGP protocol and a multiple of internet connections from a number of different providers to improve availability also justify another reason for supporting NAT on IPv6, as it makes it easier to switch between the different connections when one of the ISPs is down.

As in almost every Linux kernel version, some drivers have been extended to support additional hardware-- for example, the iPhone's tethering driver 'ipheth' now fully supports the iPhone 5. And Atheros' ath9k wireless driver now supports the AR9565 Wi-Fi chip (1, 2, 3, 4 and others).

The Broadcom fullmac driver 'brcmfmac' has added support for the 43242 and 43143 USB wireless chips. In conjunction with hostap, the driver can now set hardware up as an access point (master mode).

Intel's e1000e Ethernet driver now supports the network component offered by the low power (LP) version of the Lynx Point platform controller hub (PCH).

On Saturday, Linus Torvalds released the sixth release candidate for the Linux 3.7 kernel and mentioned that he would go on vacation on Sunday.

Torvalds added that "things have continued to be pretty calm" and mentions that he plans to do an RC7 – "but considering how calm things have been, I suspect that's the last -rc. Unless something dramatic happens".

So just to recap, if Torvalds sticks to his usual pace, a final release of the 3.7 kernel is likely to arrive at the end of November or in the first few days of December.

The tunnelling protocol GRE (generic routing encapsulation) can now tunnel other protocols over IPv6. Also, kernel developers have merged the server-side code for TCP Fast Open (TFO) (1, 2, 3 and others).

Linux 3.6 already contains client-side support for this experimental TCP extension developed by Google, which seeks to accelerate HTTP connection handshaking by combining the first two steps in the three-way handshake normally employed by TCP.

Also new in this release is the support for Virtual eXtensible Local Area Networking (VXLAN), a draft tunnelling protocol submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which, according to the kernel documentation, is able to get around the 4096 limit for the number of VLANs.

The Team driver now supports non-Ethernet hardware. Also, the bonding driver supports IPv6 transmit hashing. The subsystem maintainer discusses a number of other changes in the network subsystem as well.

In other Linux and open source development news

Let's set the record straight here: Linux currently enjoys about a 72 percent global market share of the server and enterprise segment of the IT industry, but when it comes to its share of the desktop market, things are very different, and this doesn't surprise most people in the Linux and open source community.

And that trend doesn't seem to vary too much in large business either. But in contrast to Linux's market share in desktop operating systems, the operating system started by Linus Torvalds still claims a considerably larger market share when it comes to operating systems used by enterprises.

This article presents some latest numbers depicting where does Linux stand as an operating system for business. It also details some large businesses that rely on Linux for their everyday IT chores.

But unfortunately, when it comes to desktops, the enterprise segment is still mainly dominated by Windows, with Windows 7 now being the main contender.

But trends do change, particularly if we take into account the last three to four years. And those same trends favor Linux and open source software on a fairly large scale, however. Small to medium sized businesses are adopting Linux as their primary operating system mainly to reduce costs.

As reported by Jeffrey Hammond, the principal analyst at Forrester Research “Linux has crossed the steep ravine to mainstream adoption.” That declaration was based on Forrester’s survey numbers which deducted that a large number of enterprises have moved over to open source technology in early 2009 and mid-2010 primarily as a way to reduce costs.

Forrester's survey further demonstrated that by the end of 2009, some large businesses were increasingly looking to open source software as a driver for growth.

The survey published by Hubspan in May of this year further details the usage numbers of operating system utilized by enterprises during last year. Despite the fact that Linux only claims about 9.2 percent of the total enterprise operating system segment, it’s still encouraging nevertheless to note that all big organizations and enterprises use Linux in their day-to-day activities.

For example, Google’s huge search infrastructure comprises of Google Web Servers (GWS) which is Custom Linux-based Web servers that the company uses for its massively popular online search services.

In the car manufacturing industry, popular car makers Audi and BMW use Linux for most of their design and engineering tasks. Lets investigate this in more detail.

Audi, an actual subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group is known for producing mostly luxurious cars around the world. The company produces and sells more than 829,000 vehicles annually under the Audi brand. The German car maker has completely migrated its engineering systems over to Linux in the past few years.

The overall bulk of its servers and many workstations are now running 64-bit Linux. Note that Linux isn't only being used on server-side but also on their many workstations. Now that you know this, Audi’s luxury cars are engineered on Linux.

For its part, BMW is also one of the leading luxury car brands known for producing some of the best luxury cars. In the past nine years, the Bavarian car maker has used Linux for mission critical systems such as its large servers and and is still using the operating system since 2003.

In 2011, BMW also showed its intentions to use Linux for in-car entertainment. The company also created a TV advertising campaign-- IBM supports Linux at 100 percent.

Speaking of Big Blue, the IT giant is among the Linux foundation Platinum Members along with Fujitsu, Intel, NEC Corp., Oracle, Qualcomm, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard, who each donate US $500,000 per year for the development of Linux. Additionally, IBM uses Linux locally to support its extensive computing demands.

And the most extensively used social media that uses Linux is Twitter. The social site uses it on its servers to support huge data centers. Twitter receives as much as about 2.8 billion tweets per day with millions of users using the network from various devices and locations every single second.

In such a mission critical environment, Linux provides reliable computation services, as it does in just about any other industry you can think of today.

And Amazon is yet another American large business that uses Linux extensively to support its large data infrastructure.

And if you need more examples, DreamWorks Animation is also using Linux for the past eleven-plus years. The Hollywood movie producing company reportedly owns over one-thousand Linux desktops and over 3,000 Linux servers for their complex computation tasks.

For its part, The London Stock Exchange also deploys Linux-based Millennium IT Exchange software for its trading platform, while The New York Stock Exchange uses Linux as well for its complex trading applications. Additionally, Union Bank of California has also standardized its IT infrastructure on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Big business and large organizations are currently taking full advantage of the many customization features that Linux offers and are optimizing them according to their own specific requirements.

In other Linux news

In 2006, Red Hat saved itself a bit of time and made its way into the server virtualization business by acquiring Qumranet and then offered the IT industry the KVM hypervisor, commercialized as the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization System.

A few years later, it then acquired open-source solutions provider Gluster and created a file system now known as Red Hat Storage Server. Now the Linux vendor has integrated the two systems in order that they can run side-by-side on the same clusters, uniting computing and storage features on commodity servers.

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To be sure, Red Hat hosted a webcast yesterday to talk about the traction that was gained recently in its open source Gluster and Red Hat Storage Server 2.0 solutions, the latter of which launched in June of this year and started shipping in July.

On the webcast, Ranga Rangachari, general manager of Red Hat's storage division, said that Gluster has over 160,000 downloads and that the community of open source and Linux enterprise application developers was growing at about 160 percent since it invested $136 million to acquire Gluster.

Rangachari added that the company now has over 100 proofs of concept up and running, and that it is working on getting around 30 channel partners up to speed on selling the RHSS product as an alternative to other clustered file systems and disk arrays.

But this could be a tall order in some respects and would be more difficult than getting some key IT vendors to support its Enterprise Linux operating system or Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor. The reason is simple enough-- the key server makers who push these two Red Hat solutions have their own storage businesses to protect.

And getting Super Micro to sell the commercialized Gluster clustered file system is easy enough. However, Sirius Computer Solutions and Mainline Information Systems are two big IBM server resellers, so it's a bit surprising to see them offering RHSS to its enterprise customers.

And we might add that since HP is on the list of thirty partners getting ready to sell the same products is surprising, but if you consider how desperate HP Software is to boost sales and profits, it sure makes a point here.

The other companies cited by Red Hat are smaller and probably not as well known to most of us-- CityTech, Groupware Technology, Carasoft, International Integrated Solutions, GC Micro, Software By Design, ShadowSoft, Sigma Solutions and Abtech Systems were also on the short list.

With about 68 percent of Red Hat's revenues driven by channel partners, it's a bit difficult to imagine IBM, Dell, HP, Fujitsu, and the other key server players that have a strong desire to sell storage hardware and software enthusiastically embracing RHSS, except in those cases where customers demand it.

Red Hat's Gluster File System takes all of those individual file systems running on server nodes in one single cluster and exposes that file system as a single global namespace that you can mount as either NFS or CIFS.

RHSS is equipped with the same virtualization management console that is used for RHEV, which is in tech preview in the 2.0 release as is the ability to pipe RHSS into the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) or entirely replace HDFS with RHSS.

Rangachari said on the webcast that RHSS 2.0 integration with RHEV 3.1 had just entered beta testing. No word on when that will be product grade or precisely what integration will mean. But longer term, Rangachari said that Red Hat was working to make RHSS and RHEV run on the same clusters, with virtual machine containers for storage and some of the processing capacity used to drive the RHSS file system.

If Hadoop has taught us anything, it's that getting computing and storage features on the same physical devices can substantially boost performance.

The interesting thing about RHSS is that is you can use the Gluster File System as an overlay on top of Amazon's Elastic Block Storage to provide some scalability and resilience across those EBS instances.

Still no word on what performance penalty this brings to EBS, or what it costs to do this compared to running RHSS on internal clusters, however. If you run RHSS on Amazon's EBS and do the same thing in your own data center, you can move data back and forth between the two, something that a few system admins might find practical in some instances.

In other Linux and open source news

Here's a question that is pondering on some people that work in the Linux community: could the open source concept eventually contain the seeds of its own destruction? Poul Kamp, a noted FreeBSD open source developer and creator of the Varnish web-server cache, wrote this year that the open-source development model has created an embarrassing mess of software.

After all, open source is software development done in public and for free, as seen with the Linux operating system, while the so-called 'cathedral model' describes coding techniques done behind closed doors although the source code is still made public with each new version.

So these are just two small 'nuances' to most observers. "A pile of old festering hacks, endlessly copied and pasted by a clueless generation of IT professionals who wouldn't recognize sound IT architecture if you hit them over the head," was Kamp's summary of the 'bazaar model'.

"Under this embarrassing mess of software lies the ruins of the beautiful cathedral of Unix, deservedly famous for its simplicity of design, its economy of features, and its elegance of execution," he wrote in a piece titled A generation lost in the Bazaar.

With major Linux updates due in October and this month (such as Ubuntu 12.10 and Fedora 18) and with Microsoft spitting out a platform shift with Windows 8, it's worth considering-- is open-source software doomed to a fate of facsimile, and are there any ways we can truly save it?

By the end of the 1980s, things were looking bad for Unix. AT&T's former Unix projects had metastasised into dozens of competing products from all the major computer manufacturers, plus clones and academic versions, all slightly different and subtly incompatible - sometimes even multiple different versions from a single manufacturer.

Richard Stallman's GNU Project to create a free alternative to Unix was moving ahead, but it hadn't produced a complete operating system because it didn't have a kernel.

BSD was struggling to free itself from the binding vestiges of AT&T code and as a result also wasn't a completely free operating system per se. Well sort of.

Source: The Linux Foundation.

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