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Red Hat Lays out 2006 Technology Roadmap

Although its next major commercial release is still many months away, Red Hat is letting everyone know what major new technology enhancements to expect from its enterprise Linux distribution.

For those that don't want to wait for the next Red Hat Enterprise Linux release, the virtualization and thin client capabilities that Red Hat has expanded and calls Stateless Linux are already offered by other open source projects.

Red Hat today announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, expected in 2006, will include "fully integrated server virtualization capability." That capability is expected to be achieved working with the Xen open source virtualization community. The Xen project got the backing of IBM in January 2005 and has been included as part of Novell's SUSE Linux since version 9.3 was released in March.

The virtualization effort by Red Hat will optimize its core operating system platform for virtualized environments and also provide for integration with other Red Hat technologies, such as its Global File System clustered storage file format and its network systems management platform.

The Xen project's lead commercial sponsor, XenSource, which is operated by the original Xen development team including Xen project leader Ian Pratt, sees Red Hat's intent to include virtualization next year as being tremendously important.

Simon Crosby, vice president of strategy at XenSource, noted that in addition to Red Hat's enterprise distro, Novell intends to ship Xen in SUSE Linux Enterprise server 10 as well.

"XenSource is working hard with both distros to ensure that we meet their code upstream dates and to ensure interoperability of all vendors' Xen based solutions in the market," Crosby told internetnews.com. "We are delighted that Red Hat and SuSE both see a way to monetize Xen within their distributions."

Xen is not only specific to Linux: Sun has ported Solaris x86 to Xen, and Crosby pointed out that Xen 3.0 provides hardware-assisted virtualization for non-paravirtualized operating systems such as Windows on Intel VT processors.

Red Hat users need not necessarily wait until 2006 and RHEL 5 to take advantage of Xen virtualization. Crosby suggested that Red Hat users can take advantage of it as soon as Xen 3.0 ships.

The community, with the help of key development partners AMD, Dell, HP, IBM and Intel, is actively testing Xen 3.0 now and is on track for a December release. According to Crosby, the distros and OEMs are committed to working with XenSource after the Xen 3.0 community release to further harden and performance-tune Xen.

"RHEL 4 will run superbly on Xen 3.0, which supports SMP guests and large address space configurations, as well as Intel's VT," Crosby said.

The other key technology outlined by Red Hat for 2006 is something it calls "Stateless Linux." Similar to a thin client, Red Hat's stateless Linux project, which is under development partially via its Community-based Fedora Project, aims to have the "mobility and flexibility of a standard desktop but with the administration costs of a thin client."

Speaking of thin clients, they are certainly not a new thing in the Linux world.

The Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) is perhaps the "granddaddy" of all Linux thin-client open source projects and is now being included in the latest Ubuntu Linux release.

Jim McQuillan, leader of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), sees stateless Linux as a competitive project, although, in his estimation, the thin-client market is going to be plenty big enough for both projects.

That being the case, McQuillan noted that RHEL 4 users need not necessarily wait until 2006 in order to have thin client functionality in their distributions.

"In fact, I've deployed LTSP on RHEL4 with great success," McQuillan told internetnews.com.

From what McQuillan has seen of stateless Linux, it will require fairly hefty clients. In comparison, he argued that LTSP works with all kinds of clients, both old and new.

A potential shortcoming of LTSP, though, is that it does not include a GUI to manage setup.

"But it's certainly stable enough to connects lots (100's) of thin clients to a big server," McQuillan said. "We're working on things like server clustering, to increase scalability."

LTSP and Red Hat at one point did talk, according to McQuillan. "We talked back in 2001, but at that time, LTSP wasn't as mature as it is now, and it wasn't ready to be included in a distro."

Times have changed, and, with Ubuntu on board, McQuillan said that he'd love the opportunity to work with the Redhat/Fedora guys to give them the same functionality.

"My first thoughts of stateless Linux last year was, 'If they come up with some good ideas, we'll take them and implement in LTSP, and if we come up with good ideas, they are welcome to them," McQuillan said. "In the end, thin clients will be better because of it. I really dislike duplication of effort."

Beyond stateless Linux and virtualization, Red Hat's plans for 2006 also involve helping developers to actually develop. To that end, Red Hat has said that it will continue to invest in Eclipse, as well as in its own SystemTAP project, which is currently in development via the Fedora Project.

According to its project page, "the SystemTap project aims to produce a Linux tool that lets application developers and system administrators take a deeper look into a running kernel."

Red Hat will also continue to develop developer-focused content, training and certifications.

"Some of our largest customers are beginning to realize that a combination of open source development tools and distributed development processes, mirroring how the open source community operates, are yielding significant increases in software quality, even while decreasing time-to-market," Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering at Red Hat, said in a statement. "Our experience with distributed software development ideally positions us to help customers win in this new environment."

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (RHEL) was released in February of this year. The product follows an 18-month development cycle, placing a RHEL 5 release sometime in the second half of 2006.