Latest Red Hat release exploits multicore chips

Battle between Intel and AMD benefits enterprise Linux vendor. By Joab Jackson

Open-source enterprise software company Red Hat has updated its flagship operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), to take full advantage of the latest spoils from the heated microprocessor battle between AMD and Intel.

RHEL version 5.5, released at the end of March, has been reconfigured for Intel's just-released eight-core Nehalem-EX and

AMD's almost-as-recently released 12-core "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6100 Series processors, says Tim Burke, Red Hat's vice president for platform engineering.

The software also supports the IBM eight-core Power7 processors, released in February.

"This is a great time for the next version of RHEL to hit the market," says Charles King, an analyst at reserch firm Pund-IT. This latest round in the continued proliferation of cores within AMD, IBM and Intel processors represents an "inflection point" for the industry, one that could spur a lot of datacentre server consolidation, through the use, at least in part, of virtualisation, King says.

To help customers harness all this concentrated horsepower, "There's a huge amount of work we've done for RHEL 5.5 for system scalability optimisation," Burke says. Improvements have been made in the system scheduler, memory allocation and power management.

The scale of these processors could enable a much wider use of virtualisation, Burke says. To this end, the new operating system has been reconfigured in such a way to better handle large virtualisation loads. "The [processors] have a lot of new primitives that we exploit in the OS," Burke says. Such primitives "allow the guest instances to directly access their device drivers" instead of trafficking data through the hypervisor layer, he says.

Burke says that thanks to this direct access to drivers, a single virtual guest running on a RHEL server can saturate a 10 Gigabit Ethernet link. "The hypervisor doesn't have to be the middleman for all those operations," Burke says.

RHEL 5.5 also now supports Single Root I/O Virtualisation, a specification that allows multiple virtual guests to better share PCI hardware resources and I/O devices.

While some I/O-intensive applications, such as database servers, can experience as much as a 30 percent reduction in performance when virtualised, these new technologies could reduce that latency to as little as five percent, Burke says.

RHEL's support for IBM's Power7 is significant as well, King says. For the past several years, IBM has been marketing Linux-based Power Systems as a lower-cost alternative to those systems running Sun Solaris or Hewlett-Packard HP-UX. RHEL's support of Power7 will help IBM continue this effort of purloining customers away from the Unix camp, King says.

Beyond support for the new round of multicore releases, RHEL 5.5 has a number of other new features. It has been updated to extend Active Directory integration, through the use of the latest version of Samba file- and print-sharing software. Also, for the first time, RHEL's version of SystemTap can trace the run-time performance of C++ applications (much like Oracle's DTrace does for Solaris' applications).

RHEL 5.5 also aggregates all the bug fixes and maintenance patches since the release of RHEL 5.4, released last September.

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Tags multicore chipsred hat 5.5technologyAMDRed Hatintel

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