Red Hat Spacewalk Expands Linux Management

Red Hat’s Spacewalk project is getting into place. The project wants to feed development of the Red Hat Network Satellite product for system management.

Satellite is a critical tool for Red Hat users as it provides management capabilities for multiple servers for software deployment and updates.

Almost six months ago, Red Hat kicked off the Spacewalk project in an effort to create an open source version of Network Satellite that would serve as the upstream project that drives development. According to Red Hat executives, Spacewalk is still in the process of getting aligned with Network Satellite releases in terms of the development model.

As well, Spacewalk is now gearing up to replace Network Satellite’s proprietary Oracle database backend with an open source database. It’s all part of Red Hat’s larger efforts to use the open source model effectively in all parts of its business, as well as reducing the costs associated with proprietary databases.

“The application code for Spacewalk is open source, but we are using a proprietary back end for the database,” Todd Warner Product Manager, RHN Satellite and Project Spacewalk told “For an open source project that’s a problem since we have all these open source bits and it requires a proprietary database. It’s a big Achilles heal that we’ll be focusing a tremendous amount of effort to rectify.”

Warner explained that RHN Satellite and Spacewalk have database backends that are currently using Oracle 10g.

“One of our big key success criteria for Spacewalk is to supporting an open source database and we’re making great strides in getting that started,” Warner said. “It will be a lot of work but we have committed to supporting PostgreSQL and we’re looking to have that completed by sometime in 2009.”

Moving from Oracle 10g to PostgreSQL is something that will require a lot of time and effort according to Warner. He noted that RHN Satellite is a mature application that uses a lot of stored database procedures and hooks that are specific to Oracle. One of Red Hat’s big challenges in moving to PostgreSQL is ensuring they can translate all of the Oracle nuances without loosing any performance.

“The core reasoning around this is we’re open source, we believe in open source so let’s use open source,” Warner said. “We used Oracle in the past for a lot of historical legacy reasons and we got caught into deprioritzing moving away from it. We always knew that the open source route would be the better route to take, but the effort was enormous.”

Warner did not specifically cite the fact that Oracle is also a competitor to Red Hat in the Linux support space as a driver for the migration. Oracle has been providing its own version of Linux based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux since 2006.

By moving to an open source database, Warner commented that there will also be a cost saving as well though at this point it’s not clear how much that savings will be in terms of total cost of ownership.

While the move away from Oracle on the back end is a key goal for Spacewalk, so to is the process of aligning the development of RHN Satellite releases with Spacewalk development. Warner explained that Red Hat recently release RHN Satellite version 5.2 which is closely aligned with what spacewalk is doing, though it’s not exact. The plan is for the next release of Satellite in 2009 to be completely developed from the spacewalk development tree.

The basic idea is that Spacewalk will be the upstream project from which RHN Satellite is built much the same way that Red Hat builds its Red Hat Enterprise Linux from the community developed Fedora Linux.

With Spacewalk, Red Hat in a sense is creating its own competition, since users could potentially choose to use the freely available Spacewalk rather than paying for a subscription to RHN Satellite. Warner however isn’t worried. In his view having a freely available version keeps the company on its toes and ensures that the value added support offered by the Satellite subscription is truly a value add.

Though Spacewalk has only been alive for six months, Warner already considers the effort to be a success, though he doesn’t expect Red Hat to rest on its laurels.

“Success for any open source project is something you have to continuously achieve, Warner said. “Any project can flounder languish and die, we want to make sure that we’re constantly moving forward and making sure our community is healthy and engaged.”

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