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Novell kicks out SUSE Linux Enterprise 11

Getting Mono and getting high

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Commercial Linux distributor Novell today takes the wraps off SUSE Linux 11, its riff on Linux for servers and desktops that now sports a commercially supported extension for the Mono runtime environment and a variant that provides high availability clustering of servers.

The Mono Extension to SUSE Linux is the first time that Novell has offered commercial support for the Mono runtime, which allows applications that are coded in C# and using the .NET Framework to run atop non-Windows platforms. Novell bought into the open source Mono project when it acquired Ximian, the company behind Mono as well as the Gnome graphical user interface, back in the summer of 2003. That's a long time for Novell to take to get Mono commercial, but better late than never.

The High Availability Extension is not the first clustering product from Novell - SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 included two-node clustering based on an open source program called Heartbeat when combined with the Logical Volume Manager (LVM). But Novell never really pushed this hard and preferred for Linux shops to use third-party products to do clustering. Not so starting today. Novell wants and needs to chase the high availability clustering budget at IT shops. The Heartbeat clustering was also part of SLES 10.

As expected, the SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 variants are all based on the Linux 2.6.27 kernel. The software also includes the latest stable Xen hypervisor, version 3.3, as the core virtualization hypervisor for customers who want to deploy SLES as their main server virtualization tool rather than use VMware's ESX Server, Microsoft's Hyper-V, or Citrix Systems' XenServer (its own commercial variant of the Xen hypervisor).

Novell has not said anything about supporting the Red Hat-controlled KVM hypervisor, which will be at the heart of that Linux distributor's Enterprise Linux server and desktop variants as well as being provided as a free-standing virtualization platform for Linux and Windows, called Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. SUSE Linux Enterprise has been optimized to run well on ESX Server, Hyper-V, and Xen.

Markus Rex, general manager of the Open Platform Solutions business at Novell, said that in addition to the new kernel and Xen, the software that updates SUSE Linux online is now about 100 times faster than it was before. "It was OK before, but now it is really shiny," Rex says.

The update software in the Yast management tool is a key part of being able to make customized revs of the SUSE Linux stack, but if the updater is slow, then this becomes a problem. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 will include so-called JEOS (Just Enough Operating System) minimalist installations, often called software appliances, but the SUSE Studio Appliance Toolkit, which is used to create JEOS variants, is only now entering beta testing, according to Rex.

He says it will be available in a few months. The neat thing about the appliance builder is that it will tell you when you have created a custom SLES or SLED setup that will not be supported by Novell and what you need to do to get it compliant so Novell will provide tech support. Novell is using the ZYpp package management program in SUSE Linux 11, by the way.

Novell will also be putting out a kicker to its Virtual Machine Driver Pack for SLES, which is a fee-based set of paravirtualized network, bus, and block device drivers for the operating system, which lets Linux and Windows run atop Novell's Xen implementation at "near-native performance," according to the company.

If you have a SUSE Linux support contract, these drivers and their support are available to you as part of that support contract. The driver pack has para-virtualized drivers for Windows XP or Vista desktop operating systems and Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008 server operating systems. Drivers for running RHEL 4 and 5 are also available for Novell's Xen implementation. These para-virtualized drivers require Intel VT or AMD-V virtualization technology on the processors inside the server.

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