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Novell preps service pack for SUSE Linux 11

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Novell is close to launching Service Pack 1 for SUSE Linux 11 on the desktop and server.

Which stands to reason. With all the new server iron being injected into the market, (and more to come later this year) and an impending release of Enterprise Linux 6 from Red Hat and the just-released Ubuntu 10.04 from Canonical, commercial Linux distributor Novell has to either put out a new version of SUSE Linux or crank out a service pack to keep pace.

Novell put SUSE Linux 11 into the field last March. The Linux variant is based on the Linux 2.6.27 kernel and offers the Xen 3.3 hypervisor for server virtualization and a technology preview of the KVM hypervisor controlled by rival Red Hat. SUSE Linux 11 also included the first commercially supported version of Novell's Mono clone of the .NET runtime environment, called Mono Extension to SUSE Linux, and Novell's second stab at server clustering, called the High Availability Extension.

When it was announced in March, SUSE Linux 11 supported the then-new quad-core Opteron 2400 and 8400 processors from Advanced Micro Devices, the then-impending Xeon 5500 processors from Intel, and the then-new Power6+ processors from IBM.

With SP1 for SUSE Linux 11, the first thing that Novell will do is update the Linux kernel to the 2.6.32 release so it can take advantage of the new microprocessors that have hit the market like a sledgehammer this spring. SP1 will support the new 12-core "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6100 processors and the soon-to-be-announced six-core "Lisbon" Opteron 4100s and their related chipsets from AMD.

You'll need SP1 to run SUSE Linux 11 on servers using Intel's new eight-core "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500 processors as well as on IBM's eight-core Power7s. Technically, you don't need SP1 to run on the six-core "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600s that were launched in early March, but if you want to make use of the embedded AES encryption electronics, then you need SP1.

The future System z11 mainframe processors from IBM, which will sport extended floating point capabilities, will also require SP1, as do machines based on the finally shipping "Tukwila" quad-core Itanium 9300s. Significantly, Red Hat has pulled the plug on Itanium with its future RHEL 6 release, so continuing support for Linux could bolster SUSE a bit among Itanium server shops. Which means mostly Hewlett-Packard Integrity customers at this point.

While SUSE Linux 11 SP1 will span more physical hardware, it will also have more scalable virtual hardware capabilities. According to sources familiar with Novell's plans, the company will be jacking up the support for operating system threads and logical CPUs, pushing up to 4,096 threads (or logical CPUs if you think of a thread as a logical CPU as Novell's Linux kernel developers do) on machines based on x64 or Power architectures.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 already supported 512 logical CPUs on x64 iron, 1,024 on Power systems, and 4,096 on Itanium boxes. Notably, on the Silicon Graphics Altix UV shared memory systems, which were announced last November and will start shipping in the third quarter, SP1 will span all 2,048 cores and 16TB of shared memory in the machine. (That's 4,096 logical CPUs and a hell of a lot of memory.)

The hypervisors cooked into SP1 are going to carve up more virtual machines per physical server with SP1, too. This is necessary because more modern machines have more cores and threads and therefore need to support more VMs as well as larger VMs. With SLES 11, a Xen hypervisor could support up to 64 VMs per physical x64 server, but with SLES 11 SP1, both Xen and KVM will be able to do double that, at 128 VMs per machine. (IBM uses its own PowerVM hypervisor on Power-based machines and z/VM on mainframes, while HP has Integrity VMs on its Itanium-based boxes.)

SUSE Linux 11 SP1 will support the newer Xen 4.0 hypervisor; it is not clear what release of KVM Novell is weaving into SP1 or if KVM will be commercially supported or still be in a technology preview mode.

Sources at Novell say that the software engineers have been hard at work tweaking the kernel to get every last bit of performance out of it, and they concede that between SUSE Linux 9 and SUSE Linux 11, some aspects of the kernel performance had degraded. But Novell has been changing up memory management, CPU scheduling, process switching, and other parts of the kernel to make it run a lot faster.

Even though SP1 for SUSE Linux 11 will slip in a new kernel, Novell is doing it in such a way that application software providers do not have to recertify their applications to run atop SP1. Which is how all prior SUSE Linux SPs have worked.

The exact timing of the launch of SP1 is unclear. What Novell has said publicly is to expect it in the first half of 2010. Which means soon, since May is nearly half gone and that leaves only June. ®

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