SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9

Summary: This is a significant update, with important scalability and management enhancements positioning it ahead of the competition, and as a rival to Microsoft's latest Windows Server 2003 product.

Pros

  • Very complete and highly scalable server package
  • 2.6 kernel
  • built-in virtualisation tools
  • enhanced YaST management tools
  • ZENworks integration
  • enhanced clustering

Cons

  • Lots of post-install setup work required
  • good Linux knowledge needed to get the most out of the package

Having already updated its consumer focused Linux last year, you could be forgiven for expecting Novell’s latest enterprise operating system to be little more than a rehash of that software. However, that’s not the case: there are significant performance, scalability and security enhancements in version 9 of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES 9), together with a raft of new and improved management features that help push it to the top of the Linux pile.

Inevitably a lot of the changes are hidden away under the surface, with an enhanced 2.6 kernel responsible for most of the performance and scalability gains. Kernel support for NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access), for example, allows deployment on systems with hundreds of processors with hyper-threading capabilities also added in this release. Both 32-bit and 64-bit processors can also be employed, including Intel Itanium and Xeon EM64T as well as AMD64 chips, with optional support for the IBM POWER processor, z-Series and S/390 systems.

There’s now no theoretical limit to the number of processors, which is bit mind boggling -- as are the numbers for some of the other enhancements. For example, the kernel can handle up to 65,535 processes and over 4 billion unique users. Added to which the new OS can support 4,096 major device types, which is important for users looking to connect to large storage arrays. As is a new and more flexible I/O scheduler, centralised storage management tools and support for the latest USB and Serial ATA storage technology.

Other behind-the-scenes enhancements include new clustering facilities, and an all-new option called User-Mode Linux (UML). Originally developed as a debugging tool, this allows several implementations of Linux to be run on the same hardware platform with -- unlike proprietary virtualisation products -- no additional licensing required.

As always, bundled applications are thrown in aplenty, including the Apache 2.0 Web server and the latest Samba 3.0 code for SMB file sharing and Windows networking. Moreover, Samba is now integrated into the YaST management utility along with new modules to configure the bundled mail server software and manage the VPN configuration, with support in this release for both Linux and Windows VPN clients.

Support for Novell ZENworks Linux Management has also been added to help deploy and maintain the software on large networks with online updates now a key feature of all SuSE distributions.

A standalone install on our test server took just over half an hour, although some of the modules, such as UML and the Samba management tools, do have to be added later. Indeed, there’s quite a lot of post-installation work required, and although the SuSE package includes reasonable documentation, a high level of expertise is required to get the best out of it. That said, there are lots of Novell support services you can subscribe to including free 30-day installation support if you opt to download a trial package. Plus the software itself is one of the easiest Linux distributions to set up and use -- even in its enterprise format.

Pricing is dependent on platform, the number of CPUs and options. Typically, you'll pay around £200 (ex. VAT) to licence a single x86 server with up to two processors.

Topics: Operating Systems, Reviews, Servers

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