Red Hat today formally announced the availability of its highly anticipated next-generation Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL 7) platform, which has been in development since 2010. Among its features, RHEL 7 includes a new filesystem that can scale to 500 terabytes as well as support for Docker container virtualization technology.
RHEL 7 is the first major milestone update release for Red Hat since RHEL 6 was officially launched in November 2010. A lot has happened in the Linux development community and the broader technology landscape over the last four years, and RHEL 7 is an effort to reflect that change.
Denise Dumas, senior director of Platform Engineering at Red Hat, has been at the forefront of RHEL 7 development for the last several years as the technology has evolved toward the official release today.
“RHEL has had to become a lot more flexible because of things like containers and Docker,” Dumas told eWEEK.
Docker did not exist when RHEL 7 development first kicked off in 2010. The Docker container open-source project got its start in 2013 and has since emerged to become one of the hottest areas of enterprise virtualization technology. Docker 1.0 was officially released on June 9, and it is now being fully supported inside of RHEL 7.
In December 2013, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens first revealed to eWEEK that his company would be including Docker in RHEL 7. As recently as April of this year, Red Hat’s plan was for Docker to only be a technology preview in RHEL 7, with full support not set to land until RHEL 7.1 later this year.
Dumas explained that Red Hat adjusted its position and Docker is in fact fully supported in RHEL 7 and ships inside of a software channel known as RHEL Extras. She added that inside of RHEL Extras, Red Hat will be able to update Docker as needed in the coming months.
“We were afraid that Docker would have to be a technology preview, but it’s very solid,” Dumas said. “We’re very engaged in the upstream Docker community and have been trying real hard to make sure it is moving in a direction that is stable for our enterprise customer base.”
While Red Hat is now embracing Docker containers as a virtualization technology within RHEL 7, it isn’t abandoning the Kernel-mode Virtual Machine (KVM) virtualization hypervisor. When RHEL 6 debuted in 2010, Red Hat moved to KVM and left its Xen hypervisor customers behind, with support only on the prior RHEL 5 platform. Dumas noted that a lot of work has been done in KVM for RHEL 7, including support for live storage migration as well as scalability and performance enhancements.
Scalability is a key theme for RHEL 7 overall and is reflected in the platform’s new default filesystem. Since the first Red Hat Linux release, Red Hat has been using the EXT filesystem (with EXT 4 in RHEL 6) as the default. In RHEL 7, that now shifts to the XFS filesystem, providing users with a filesystem that can scale up to 500TB.
“XFS is rock solid, and scaling to 500TB gives customers much more runway as far as filesystems go,” Dumas said.
Red Hat Releases RHEL 7 With New Filesystem, Docker Support
When RHEL 7 development first got started, there were indications that the Btrfs filesystem would become the default, but that never matured. Btrfs is a next-generation Linux filesystem effort that has already been embraced by Oracle and SUSE in their Linux distributions. According to Dumas, Btrfs is available as a technology preview for RHEL 7, but just isn’t considered to be fully capable enough for all the use cases and requirements of Red Hat customers.
Another key area of improvement in the RHEL 7 release is interoperability with Microsoft Windows environments.
“We want people to be able to just drop their server into a Windows environment and have it seamlessly integrate,” Dumas said.
Dumas added that Red Hat still has more Windows integration work to do, which will land in the RHEL 7.1 release. That said, she emphasized that the Windows integration in RHEL 7 is significantly improved over prior RHEL releases, making it easier for server administrators to manage and deploy.
With RHEL 7, Red Hat is also making a shift toward a new default open-source database for its users. Instead of the open-source MySQL database, which has been the default since Red Hat’s first enterprise release, RHEL 7 now includes the open-source MariaDB as the default database choice. The MySQL database is an open-source technology that was acquired by Oracle as part of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010. The original creator of MySQL, Monty Widenius, forked the code to create the MariaDB database. In 2013, MariaDB gained commercial support through a merger with SkySQL.
“We work with SkySQL and MariaDB,” Dumas said. “MariaDB has a really solid upstream and has been looking at performance improvements that MySQL has been slow to pick up.”
Dumas added that, from her perspective, it’s a reasonable move to go from MySQL to MariaDB and it shouldn’t be big a deal for RHEL users to make the shift. That said, she noted that MySQL is still an optional choice for RHEL 7 users.
After nearly four years of effort building toward the RHEL 7 release, Dumas said that for her, the really interesting parts of development actually start now. The RHEL platform team that she leads will be doing more work in the upstream open-source communities in Fedora as well as addressing what she referred to as “odds and ends” that need to be tied up.
Red Hat is just now putting together its plans for RHEL 7.1, which will be an incremental update to the platform.
“I hope we get a quiet month so we can figure out what we’re going to do and then we can go and tackle a whole lot of things that have been on the backburner,” Dumas said.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.