RealTime IT News

Faster Performance, Fewer Machines For FreeBSD?

The need for speed in operating systems is never-ending.

In the newly released FreeBSD 7.0, speed is a key improvement with gains of up to 1,500 percent at high load utilization over its predecessors in the FreeBSD 6.x branch.

While performance improvements are a key aspect of FreeBSD, it's not necessarily the most important new item in the free open source operating system.

"What is most important depends on what you want to do, of course," Michael Lucas, FreeBSD contributor and author of Absolute FreeBSD, told InternetNews.com. "The performance improvements are quite astonishing and are what most people will notice first."

FreeBSD 7.0 also includes a new iSCSI initiator for storage, enhanced wireless support and improved embedded systems support.

Greater performance per machine means that you have to buy fewer machines. FreeBSD's performance improvements come by way of a focus on optimizing the SMP architecture of the operating system, which ensures better utilization and scalability.

FreeBSD is one of the earliest open source operating system projects and is a direct descendant of the original open source BSD work performed at the University of California, Berkeley.

Though not directly related to Linux from a historical or architecture perspective, FreeBSD 7 is now binary compatible with Linux 2.6.

"FreeBSD has the ability to run Linux programs without recompilation," Lucas explained. "For example, I use Adobe Acrobat Reader for Linux on my FreeBSD laptop. It works flawlessly."

FreeBSD 7 also has some experimental features, including support for Sun's ZFS file system.

"Our users have found ZFS very robust and reliable in many environments, especially 64-bit platforms with ample memory," FreeBSD contributor Matt Olander told InternetNews.com.

Olander is also the CTO of iXsystems, a privately held San Jose, Calif.-based enterprise hardware provider. His company also leads the PC-BSD project , which is based on FreeBSD.

Though ZFS has been useful for some users, Olander noted some environments where it is known to have issues or require special hand-tuning.

"ZFS is a relatively new feature and relatively complex, so we're erring on the side of caution in advising our users to keep a close eye on things before deploying them," Olander said.

ZFS isn't the only Sun technology that FreeBSD has its eye on. Sun's networking analysis tool DTrace is also on the list for inclusion in FreeBSD.

Olander noted that the FreeBSD DTrace port is at a very advanced stage with preintegration patches circulated among developers.

Olander expects that once any issues that turn up with the DTrace port are resolved, DTrace should be coming into FreeBSD.

With the release of FreeBSD 7, earlier versions of FreeBSD will begin to drop off. FreeBSD 5.x which was released in 2003, is set to hit its end of life on May 31, 2008.

FreeBSD 6.x, however, will still be maintained until at least 2010, if not longer.

"Our branches live as long as the developers and community support them," Lucas explained. "Remember, the FreeBSD Project is composed entirely of FreeBSD users. FreeBSD 6 still has a healthy, active user community.

While we expect that users will gradually migrate toward 7.0, our users are still interested in supporting version 6."

The future of FreeBSD innovation, however, is with the 7.x release, and Lucas commented that over time the addition of new features to version 6 will slow and eventually stall. He expects that by that time, the majority of FreeBSD users will be on version 7.

The operating system marketplace is extremely competitive with Windows, as versions of Linux, Unix and BSD all competing for share. For FreeBSD, competition isn't a prime concern, however.

"Competition doesn't really enter into it for most of us," Lucas stated. "You don't see FreeBSD developers sitting in a smoke-filled room plotting the overthrow of Microsoft. We sit in light, airy rooms and plot where to get the best drinks."

Lucas argued that FreeBSD's development module encourages gradual evolution rather than drastic jumps.

"Those people who install FreeBSD 7.0 and say 'Wow, this performs so much better than FreeBSD 6!' haven't seen the thousands of tiny steps our developers made to work that change," Lucas commented.