Red Hat has released the first test version of its flagship Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, about six weeks behind schedule.
Among other features, RHEL 5 Beta 1 includes virtualisation technology based on the open source Xen project, despite Red Hat executives' disparaging comments about Xen in recent weeks.
Red Hat said at the beginning of the summer that it would begin beta testing RHEL 5 in July, aiming to ship the final version in December. The release of Beta 1 late on Thursday was considerably behind schedule, but Red Hat still plans to finish the distribution by the end of the year.
Red Hat is the top enterprise Linux distribution, dominating the market along with Novell's Suse Linux. Competitors such as Ubuntu and Debian have considerable popularity, but less centralised development structures and less of an enterprise focus.
RHEL 5 Beta 1 is Red Hat's first release to include Xen-based virtualisation. "The Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Beta 1 release contains virtualisation on the i386 and x86_64 architectures as well as a technology preview for IA64," Red Hat said in the mailing list message announcing the release. "We are particularly interested in your feedback on the Xen technology."
Xen, primarily developed by US-based start-up XenSource, enables users to run multiple operating systems as guest virtual machines on the same hardware. In July — around the time Red Hat was supposed to be shipping RHEL 5 Beta 1 — Red Hat executives began publicly questioning Xen's enterprise-readiness.
"[Xen] is not stable yet, it's not ready for the enterprise," Red Hat's vice president of international operations, Alex Pinchev, told ZDNet Australia at the time. "We don't feel that [Xen] is stable enough to address banking, telco, or any other enterprise customer, so until we are comfortable we will not release it."
His statements and others led to a war of words with Novell, which released Xen-based virtualisation in Suse Linux Enterprise Server 10 in July. The new Red Hat beta shows that the company is, nevertheless, pushing ahead with its own plans to release Xen-based technology in December.
Aside from Xen, Red Hat said it is particularly interested in testing network storage, smartcard integration, SELinux security, installer improvements, clustering technology and a new driver model, among other features.
Hardware supported by the new release includes 32-bit x86-compatible, AMD's and Intel's 64-bit extensions to x86 (AMD64 and EM64T), IA64, 64-bit IBM eServer iSeries and pSeries and POWER (PPC64) and 64-bit IBM eServer zSeries (s390x).
Beginning with RHEL 5 Red Hat is shifting its packaging strategy, delivering just two RHEL versions: Client and Server. Within Client, users can specify vanilla Desktop, Workstation or Virtualization configurations, with Workstation installing high-end workstation and developer packages, and Virtualization installing Xen. The Client verison only supports x86 and x86_64 architectures.
Within Server, there are three options: Cluster, with fail-over clustering and Web load balancing; ClusterStorage, for parallel storage access via clustered volume manager and GFS cluster file system; and Virtualization, which installs Xen. Users choose the configuration at installation, and can combine different options, Red Hat said.
Red Hat's packaging plan contrasts with that of Microsoft with Windows Vista, which will arrive in six different versions, including an Ultimate edition.
Red Hat Network subscribers can get the beta directly over RHN or from Red Hat's Web site. Non-subscribers can test RHEL 5 by taking out a RHEL 4 trial subscription, also through Red Hat's site.