Expert: Prep for Linux 2.6 Deployment Now

NEW YORK — With the recently unleashed Linux 2.6 kernel poised for real-world deployment by mid-year, IT managers must begin load-testing now to ensure their networks are compatible with the upgrade.

That’s the message Open Source Development Labs’ (OSDL) lab director Tim Witham told attendees at a technical session at today’s LinuxWorld Expo in New York.

“If you’re looking at deployment later this year, you need to be doing testing on loads under 2.6, because of differences in performance and load-handling versus [the current] 2.6 kernel,” Witham said.

There are two major technology enhancements in 2.6 behind Witham’s advice that IT managers wring out their installations now to make sure the new features are buzzed out and to pinpoint potential problems. For one, the 2.6 kernel includes code to help it avoid congestion when PCs fight for network resources. It’s also designed to enable smoother performance for multiple-processors systems.

Also notable is the fact that the 2.6 development effort encompasses a massive push to ensure full drivers support — for legacy and new systems. For this reason, it’s possible some items may slip through the cracks. “I recommend that anyone who has a weird piece of hardware to load 2.6 now,” Witham said, to see if theres driver support.

As IT managers prepare their installations in anticipation of commercial distributions of 2.6, Witham sees support rolling out in a non-uniform fashion.

“SuSe [Novell] will push pretty quickly toward 2.6,” he said, noting that the last release of SuSE shipped with a 2.6 test kernel. “Red Hat may wait a bit.” (Red Hat previously told it will migrate completely by November, 2004, while SuSE said it’s aiming for the spring.)

Some IT managers may already have had a taste of 2.6 without realizing it.

“There’s been so much growth of Linux in the past few years, there’s been pressure to back-port features from 2.6 into [the current] 2.4, which has resulted in a little bit of divergence in distributions from plain-vanilla,” Witham said.

Full plug-and-play support is now in the operating system, along with a modularized driver model, and support for USB, hot-pluggable hardware, PC cards and Firewire. There’s also native mounting of Windows file systems, a feature that support connection of plug-in devices. And wireless support is also improving with each new Linux release, Witham said.

The gating factor for 2.6 adoption will be the support. “I think most IT shops won’t move until they can get a support contract signed,” Witham said. “I would say, realistically, we will see mid- to late-year deployment.”

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