SuSE Linux Enterprise Server Steps Up

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-09-13

SuSE Linux Enterprise Server Steps Up

Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which began shipping last month, is the first version of SuSEs enterprise-oriented distribution that has shipped since Novell acquired SuSE Linux AG earlier this year.

Click here to read the full review of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.


Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which began shipping last month, is the first version of SuSEs enterprise-oriented distribution that has shipped since Novell acquired SuSE Linux AG earlier this year.

The polish and completeness of this release indicate that Novell is on course to challenge market leader Red Hat Inc. for supremacy among enterprise Linux distributions. eWEEK Labs believes SLES 9 will also give sites running Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Server a lower-cost alternative to upgrading to Windows Server 2003.

Click here to read about how Novell is reorganizing to better support its Linux development efforts.

As we have been with past SuSE releases, we were impressed with SLES 9s YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) suite of integrated configuration tools, which can open a door to Linux system management to administrators accustomed to Windows graphical configuration scheme.

Whats more, SLES 9, in many places, provides a more Windows-like experience than Red Hat Enterprise Linux does. To take a simple but important example, when we plugged a USB (Universal Serial Bus) mouse into our test system, the operating system prompted us to install the device and directed us to the appropriate setup tool for the task .

However, YaST doesnt yet match the ease of use offered by the configuration tools that ship with Windows Server 2003—particularly for setting up the OpenLDAP directory server that ships with SLES 9 and is required for running the full-featured mail server that also ships with SLES 9.

Another area we found wanting is the portal site through which SLES users make Web-based support requests and activate their software for downloading updates. This site pales in comparison with Red Hats Red Hat Network portal, which offers many more options for system and account management than does the SuSE portal.

In particular, wed like to see Novell add a way to track Web-based support requests through the portal. We filed a query related to trouble we had downloading updates on a system wed upgraded to SLES 9 from SuSE Linux Professional 9.1 on a Friday. Until we got our answer the following Thursday (the upgrade we undertook isnt supported), we were left wondering whether our e-mailed support response had been captured by one of our spam filters.

SLES 9 supports x86 platforms, as well as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Athlon 64 and Opteron; Intel Corp.s EM64T and Itanium; and IBMs PowerPC, zSeries and S/390. We tested the operating system on a desktop-class Pentium 4 system and on a dual-processor Opteron system.

The yearly maintenance service subscription for x86 architectures starts at $349 per server with two CPUs and ranges to $13,999 per engine on IBM z900 and z990 machines. The full SLES 9 price list is available at

This pricing maps fairly close to the $349-to-$18,000 range at which Red Hat prices yearly subscriptions to its Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES and AS versions. Microsoft Corp. charges from $1,000 to $4,000 for Windows 2003 Server, with added costs for client access licenses.

Next page: Modern kernel.

Modern kernel

SLES 9 is the first enterprise Linux distribution weve tested that ships with the 2.6 version of the Linux kernel—Version 2.6.5, to be exact.

Unlike SuSE Linux Professional 9.1, which was SuSEs first 2.6-based release and which shipped with a 2.4 kernel option, SLES 9 comes with 2.6 only. SuSE sites running applications not yet certified for 2.6 should stick with SLES 8 until theyve tested their applications on the new kernel.

However, the 2.6 kernel is fast approaching its first anniversary and has had time to settle down, undergoing a series of bug-fixing revisions. In addition, hardware and software vendors have had time to adjust to the new kernel—weve seen hardware and software support for 2.6 progress rapidly during the past several months.

SuSEs YaST suite of configuration tools, long one of the distributions key differentiators, now includes several new modules, including a tool for configuring the new mail server that ships with SLES 9 and a client and server setup utility for the included IP Security VPN.

We were particularly impressed with the changes in YaST for setting up Samba 3. The Windows-compatible file, print and authentication service can be confusing to configure, but in our tests, YaST did a good job of simplifying the configuration process. We could configure our test systems for basic file sharing as well as set them up to serve as primary or backup Domain Controllers in a Windows network.

We were interested to see in YaST a tool for installing instances of User Mode Linux—a new feature in the 2.6 kernel that enables users to run virtual, contained instances of Linux as applications on their systems. User Mode Linux is well-suited for testing software or for isolating applications from one another and from the system for security reasons.

As with handy open-source software components, User Mode Linux takes a bit of research and trial to configure properly, so we found this YaST tool a welcome addition—albeit one with room for improvement. We could use the YaST User Mode Linux tool to install an instance of SLES 9, but wed like to see this tool make it easy to install other Linux distributions as well.

In addition, after the tool stepped us through the creation of an instance, it gave no indication of how to run that virtual machine. For that, we had to hit Google because the generally good SLES 9 documentation scarcely referred to User Mode Linux at all.

Another snag we encountered was in setting up a network-based installation source for SLES 9, a step required for installing User Mode Linux instances. YaST contains a nice tool for copying the contents of SLES 9 disks to a system to be shared via NFS (Network File System), FTP or HTTP. The tool even let us publicize the presence of the installation source to other systems on our network via Service Location Protocol (at

Unfortunately, the YaST tool for configuring installation sources for the system isnt set up to consume Service Location Protocol data; we had to run through a workaround provided in the SLES 9 release notes to get SuSE to accept the installation source wed set up.

One hidden YaST improvement in this version of SLES is a change to the GPL (General Public License). YaSTs previous license restricted redistribution and kept YaST a SuSE-only component.

With the license change, Novell hopes to see wider embrace of and more extensive development for YaST. The switch to less restrictive licensing has already begun to pay dividends, as trusted Linux vendor Immunix Inc. released a YaST module for configuring its application security product at LinuxWorld last month.

Will a free YaST lead to an all-free, community-oriented SuSE release? Click here to read more.

One thing we found puzzling in this release was the absence of certain desktop-oriented applications on the six disks on which SLES 9 ships. In particular, we missed the office suite and the GIMP image editing application. Although SLES 9 is a server operating system, and we can understand not including these packages in the default install, it doesnt make sense to exclude them entirely.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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