Moving to Linux 2.5

Developers convene at OS summit to plot next kernel.

Although the latest Linux kernel is only now starting to appear in commercial distributions of the operating system, the Linux development community is wasting no time in making the next version more suited to enterprise users.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds, still working to stabilize the 2.4 kernel, was joined by about 50 other Linux developers and vendors at the first formal Linux kernel summit last month in San Jose, Calif., to discuss the 2.5 development kernel.

The focus of 2.5 is undoubtedly on the enterprise, with its improved scalability, storage support, inclusion of next-generation enhanced Internet protocols, additional security and improved laptop support.

Linux users are excited about the potential for the Linux platform with these enhancements. "The fact that the development community is moving to make it more reliable, even faster, stronger and more secure in the enterprise space is great news for all Linux users," said a systems administrator in New York, who requested anonymity. He added that the 2.4 kernel already scaled and performed better than many of its competitors.

The large hardware and software vendors, including IBM, Silicon Graphics Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp., continue to take an active role in Linuxs evolution and are already working on additional features for the 2.5 kernel, with enhanced scalability topping the list.

Elmer Corbin, IBMs chief business strategist for Linux in Somers, N.Y., said the level of commitment to the next kernel was encouraging. "The 2.5 development kernel, which will morph into the final 2.6 or 3.0 kernel, will contain features like enhanced scalability and volume management, which are traditionally found in higher-end Unix operating systems like AIX," Corbin said. "As such, it will give enterprise customers even more capability to handle these functions."

"The 2.4 kernel can handle up to four processors, but our customers are currently requesting up to eight to handle their processor loads," he added. "If we can get the 2.5 kernel to scale to eight processors, well achieve the vast majority of customer needs."

Ted Tso, a core Linux developer and principal engineer at VA Linux Systems Inc., in Fremont, Calif., agreed that scalability, storage and database issues were the primary focus of the 2.5 kernel development work going forward.

There is ongoing work on a new networking device interface that would "allow Linux to support heavy networking loads while using less CPU time to process incoming packets," Tso said.

Database giant Oracle Corp. was the only application vendor invited to attend the summit, primarily because of its expertise in creating efficient I/O systems for moving large data blocks.

The Redwood Shores, Calif., company has made a number of recommendations on the way Linuxs I/O subsystem could be made more efficient. "We work closely to test the beta versions of Linux," said Bob Shimp, senior director for Oracle9i marketing.

"Because Oracle ports its database to so many operating systems, we have developed an extremely sophisticated software test suite for operating systems and are able to stress test them far better than anyone else, particularly in the I/O area," Shimp said.

On the security front, there is a lot of interest by various development communities to create a highly trusted Linux system that could be used in classified applications, Tso said.

In addition, Linux will feature improved support for laptop systems, particularly around advanced power- saving features.

The Linux community is also committed to shortening the development cycle for the next major kernel release but has not yet come up with any time frame. The two-year development cycle for the 2.4 kernel, which was released in early January, "was just too long," Tso said.

Oracles Shimp said the 2.5 kernel "could well be completed sometime this year, with 2.6 probably around the middle of next year. But none of the developers have set dates for their work. So there is no formal time frame."