Red Hat readies Enterprise Linux update

Red Hat plans to launch a major upgrade to its flagship Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system that will mark the first time the software has fully supported the Linux 2.6 kernel. The launch currently is scheduled to occur at an event that will coincide with the Linuxworld Conference & Expo in Boston next month, a spokeswoman for the company has confirmed.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0 (RHEL 4.0) will be the most significant upgrade to Red Hat's Linux operating system since October 2003, when the company released version 3 of the product.

RHEL 4.0 will include new versions of the wide array of open source software products that are included in Red Hat's Linux distribution, but the most significant enhancements will come from the Linux 2.6 kernel -- the core component of the operating system that performs its most basic functions. Most significantly, version 4 will include a rewrite of Linux's I/O subsystem, which manages the transfer of data between components on the computer, as well as a new version of the Logical Volume Manager (LVM) hard drive partitioning software.

"Probably the biggest thing is there's a change to the way that the virtual memory system handles writing data to disk," said Philip Pokorny, director of engineering with Penguin Computing, who is familiar with the RHEL 4.0 beta code. These I/O subsystem changes will make Red Hat servers much faster when running applications such as databases, which process large amounts of information, he said.

Another important enhancement will be LVM 2, Pokorny said. LVM 2 will be better integrated with the operating system and will eliminate the 1T byte file system size limit that encumbers Red Hat's current version of the software. "With LVM 2, the size limit goes into the petabytes," he said.

Although Red Hat has already included a number of 2.6 kernel features in its current products, the upcoming release of RHEL 4.0, with its full support for the 2.6 kernel, is an important milestone, said Terry Collings, an instructional technologist at Muhlenberg College in the US. "I want to see the 2.6 kernel. I know they have back-ported a lot of stuff from the 2.6 kernel into Enterprise Linux 3, but you just want to know that you have the latest kernel," said Collings, who administers a number of Linux systems at the college.

Red Hat is playing catch-up in its support of the 2.6 kernel. Rival Novell Inc. has been shipping the 2.6 kernel since it introduced Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9 in August 2003.

The upcoming release of RHEL will also include security enhancements derived from the U.S. National Security Agency's Security Enhanced Linux project, as well as improved device and power management capabilities, said Collings, who has examined the beta code.

Red Hat has been putting its beta code in the hands of users like Collings since September of last year. It released the current version of its beta software on Nov. 8 and earlier this month announced that it plans no further beta releases before the launch of RHEL 4.0.

This launch will come on Feb. 14, according to a spokeswoman for Red Hat's public relations agency.

Red Hat itself was reluctant to comment on the announcement, though company spokeswoman Leigh Day, confirmed that an event was planned for Feb. 14.

When RHEL 4.0 is announced, current RHEL subscribers most likely will have immediate access to the code. "We typically like to coincide our launch with availability," Day said. "In the past we (have done) a large launch at the same time that the product is available."

Red Hat does not expect to change pricing with RHEL 4.0, she added.

(Scarlet Pruitt in London contributed to this story)

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