Red Hat's beta finally released

Xen virtualisation and security enhancements feature in preview of new release

Red Hat has pushed out the first public beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, an upgrade to its operating system that includes virtualisation technologies intended to help companies get more use from their hardware.

The company has said it will ship the final version of the product by the end of the year, although it’s unclear now if Red Hat will meet that target. RHEL 5 Beta 1, which was released last month, was originally due to ship in July and a second beta was expected in September.

The beta date slipped because the company decided to wait for a later version of the Linux kernel, 2.6.18, to be finalised, says Joel Berman, product management director for RHEL.

He says the delay wasn’t due to a memory-management issue, as had been rumoured, although there may have been a few memory bugs.

The final product will ship around the end of the year, “maybe a month before or after”, he says. A second beta will be released before that, probably in about a month.

“For Red Hat the most important thing is that it works,” he says.

The beta is for testing purposes and Red Hat emphasises that it’s not intended for production use. It’s asking for feedback to hone the final version, and wants to hear about how the open-source Xen virtualisation technology is performing.

Xen allows companies to run multiple operating systems on a server at the same time, making better use of computing power that’s often otherwise left idle. Virtualisation on mainframes has been around for a long time, but it’s now being adopted on lower-end servers as well as they become more powerful.

Novell has already incorporated Xen into its Linux distribution, Suse Linux 10 Server, which was released in July. And Microsoft has said that Windows Longhorn Server will be compatible with Xen-enabled versions of Linux, allowing customers to run Linux and Windows side-by-side on the same server.

Red Hat has developed its own Xen management tools for installing guest servers and other tasks. Today the tools are only for the Xen hypervisor, but the company is backing an open-source project called libvert that could lead to tools for managing other virtualisation environments as well, such as VMware’s.

While much has been made of the virtualisation technology, the beta focuses a lot on improving security and has features for developers as well, Berman says.

The version 5 beta includes the disk-dumping tool Kdump, which can shorten reboot times and is handy for developers who have to restart systems several times a day. It also features the SystemTap and Frysk analysis and development tools.

It also includes a technical preview of what Red Hat calls its stateless Linux technology, which reduces dependencies on individual clients to make it easier to reinstall a system image and a user’s files in the event of a system failure. The company has also incorporated numerous tweaks and improvements to its support for network storage, clustered file systems and Infiniband.

The capabilities are “important in bolstering Red Hat’s credibility as a heavy duty server OS”, says Gary Barnett, a software analyst at Ovum.

“It’s good to see support for Xen appearing, despite Red Hat arguing only a few weeks ago, when Novell included it in their release, that it wasn’t ready,” he says.

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