Is Linux Kernel 2.6 Primed for the Enterprise?

What does the newest Linux kernel have that 2.4 doesn't? With a long list of features, it offers something for every administrator, but that doesn't mean it's ready to take its place on your network. The Linux Kernel 2.6 upgrade discussion begins in Part 1 of our two-part series.

 By Carla Schroder
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Linux Kernel 2.6 has been in stable release for months now, which is like dog's years in kernel time. Kernel releases are exciting times for Linux geeks, because it's just plain fun to be able to replace the kernel on a system, or have several different kernels installed, and choose among them as the whim strikes. Oh yes, you want to gain improved performance and functionality, too.

Of course us sober, conscientious admins evaluate software upgrades in terms of necessity, not in terms of fun. Let's take a look at what's new and improved in 2.6. Then in Part 2, we'll look at how to safely install a new kernel for testing.

Executive Summary
2.6 rocks — how's that for an executive summary? This kernel is improved in every way — for everything from PDAs and other wee embedded devices, to desktops and workstations, to high-demand servers. Improved multimedia, networking, journaling and distributed filesystems, RAID, LVM (logical volume manager), more RAM, more users, more devices, and more speed in every way. While Linux has always had the broadest support for different hardware platforms, with this release it's finally also a real honest-to-goodness enterprise operating system. Here are eight reasons why:

  • 64-bit Computing
    Both Red Hat and SuSE have had business-ready 64-bit distributions available since the middle of last year. These do not use the 2.6 kernel, but are highly customized 2.4.x kernels with pieces from 2.6. (The major Linux vendors will have full 2.6 kernel implementations available later this year.) When you put these packaged 2.6 implementations on an AMD Opteron system, which supports both 32- and 64-bit applications, you have yourself a kickbutt high-demand server or workstation. Fujitsu-Siemens, Sun, IBM, HP, and several other major vendors have jumped on the Opteron/Linux bus.

    Itanium, Intel's 64-bit x86 processor, has its strengths, but I favor the Opteron's excellent native support for 32-bit applications. Itanium uses software emulation — the IA-32 execution layer — to run 32-bit programs.)

    Earlier this week, Intel made a move to take on AMD head-on when it announced plans to release 64-bit extensions for its x86 processor family (Xeon and Pentium) by the end of the year. Xeon's Nocona version will get the first crack at the extensions, which Intel commonly refers to as "CT," or Clackamas Technology, beginning in the second quarter. The 64-bit Pentium extensions for "Prescott" P4s are expected to debut sometime midyear.

  • NUMA
    No, not Numa the lion, but Non-Uniform Memory Access. What this does is remove a major bottleneck in multi-processor systems, by creating more efficient memory usage. SMP (symmetric multi-processing) does OK up to 8-12 CPUs. The 2.6 kernel supports up to 64 CPUs, so NUMA support is a big plus. You can imagine the traffic jams from a batch of CPUs all fighting for access on a shared memory bus. NUMA acts like an air traffic controller at an insanely busy airport, keeping things moving and preventing collisions.

  • Web Serving, File Sharing, and Databases
    This is not your grampa's kernel. 2.6 is fast, measuring as much as five times faster than the 2.4 kernel, for both Web servers and application servers. It's also blazingly fast for both file servers (with Samba) and databases. Many tests and benchmarks have been done, see "Kernel comparison: Web serving on 2.4 and 2.6" in Resources.

  • More Users Than You Have Ever Seen Before
    The addressing space for unique users has gone to 32-bit, from 16-bit, so now you can support 4 billion unique users, instead of a measly 65,000.

Continued on Page 2: Hyper-Threading, or Fake CPUs

This article was originally published on Feb 20, 2004
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