Today, May 21, 2008, both Red Hat and Novell announced their next updates to their enterprise Linux distributions: RHEL 5.2 and SLES 10 SP2 respectively. This is a first where both distribution competitors announced updates on the same day. So the question being asked: "Is this important? Or is it just another release to fix bugs that didn't get fixed in the prior distribution release?"
Both distribution updates include improvements to move Linux forward in the market. This is a good thing for customers world wide. But taking a closer look at each reveals that for the most part, these improvements are plugging holes that existed in the prior distributions. This is a sign of continued maturing of enterprise Linux.
Both vendors tout virtualization improvements centered around the Xen open source Hypervisor. Red Hat has been behind the game and recently released para-virtualization drivers (just yesterday) that dramatically improve performance of older RHEL guests. Novell, on the other hand released full support for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 including live migration support of Windows guests. Novell has had paravirtualized drivers for its guests for over a year now. Red Hat is working to catch up as Novell continues to move forward with its Xen virtualization lead.
Both vendors have improved their Desktop solutions. However, Novell continues to lead in technologies and third party integrations. Enterprise desktop is still a relatively new market for Red Hat.
Both vendors have made improvements to their subscription support policies and networks, but Novell remains a ways behind Red Hat. Novell's initial launch of their equivalent of the Red Hat Network occurred with the release of SLES 10 almost two years ago. Reading between the lines of Novell's Subscription Management Tool announcement, you can see the problems that Novell is now addressing with their subscription and update management system. They had trouble working through corporate firewalls - showing the immaturity of their subscription management network. Novell still has a way to go.
Both vendors have improved clustering, security, and IPv6 support. Not surprising as they both pull these enhancements from the same code (mainline kernel) and back port into their hardened and supported distributions.
Both vendors remark of IBM support. IBM has been very clear that they want both vendors to compete equally in the Linux distribution market. They experienced the monopoly one-vendor world in the late 1980's through the 1990's with Microsoft, and are making sure that Linux doesn't follow that same path. In the perfect world according to IBM, Red Hat and Novell would equally share the Linux distribution marketplace. Their interactions with each vendor are careful to move in that direction. When Red Hat dominated the market with SUSE market share in the teens at best, IBM focused the bulk of its resources and marketing on SUSE. As SUSE grew over recent years, IBM has increased their Red Hat partnering efforts; including RHEL 4 as the first in security certifications (SLES had been the preferred in times past).
Improvements, but not huge block-buster releases. As Red Hat states in their Linux LifeCycle announcement "We have done a lot of work to make sure that minor releases, such as 5.2, deliver subscription value to customers. We try to strike a balance between adding improvements, which enhance customers’ ability to get more value from their IT assets, but not adding so much that it causes them to have to recertify their entire software stack." updates are not intended to be block-buster releases, but are intended to fix issues and add incremental support for hardware advances. Both Red Hat's and Novell's recent updates fit this bill.
Different finish lines?
Both Red Hat and Novell create their distributions from the same DNA - the Linux Mainline Kernel and other open source packages. However, their directions are quite different. Red Hat is aiming at supplying a pure open source solution stack, integrating with their partners in open source. Novell is willing to integrate open and closed source to create solutions stacks of a mixed nature. Novell's partnership with Microsoft appears to be paying off, with an increase in enterprise Linux distribution market share of 9% in 2007 alone. This must be catching Red Hat's attention. Customers I have talked to are interested in solutions to their problems in a world where Microsoft is not an option to their business. Novell's partnership with Microsoft is applauded by these customers. I've heard customers wish Red Hat would do the same. A difficult proposition, as the open source community disdains the Novell-Microsoft relationship.
Regardless of the politics, both distributions evidence that Linux continues to mature in the enterprise.
[Posted by: Richard Jones]