Red Hat focuses new RHEL 5.5 on multicore

The new version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux works with the new Intel Nehalem-EX and AMD Magny-Cours chips

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 Advanced Micro Devices and Intel.

RHEL version 5.5, released Wednesday, 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, said Tim Burke, Red Hat 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," said Pund-IT analyst Charles King. 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 data-center server consolidation, through the use, at least in part, of virtualization, he said.

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

Burke said 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 said.

RHEL 5.5 also now supports Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV), 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 virtualized, these new technologies could reduce that latency to as little as 5 percent, Burke contended.

RHEL's support for IBM's Power7 is significant as well, King said. 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 said.

Beyond support for the new round of multicore releases, RHEL 5.5 has a number of other new features as well. 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.

RHEL 5.5 is available for download for subscribers.

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