Lead Image Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Lead Image Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 pre-series test

Stable Future

Article from ADMIN 51/2019
By
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the flagship Red Hat operating system and the basis for many other company products; therefore, much is at stake with version 8.

For more than 15 years I have been a Debian developer, so I am used to a good deal of teasing about "Debian Stale," a corruption of the name of the Debian Stable branch. However, if you look at common intervals between enterprise distributions, you will notice that Debian is one of the more agile distributions. Only Canonical sticks slavishly to a plan to release a version with long-term support every two years; elsewhere, five years is the norm.

Now, after more than four years, Red Hat is launching a new version of its flagship – Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 (RHEL 8) – which is intended to ditch a large amount of ballast. "Every Enterprise, Every Cloud, and Every Workload" is the motto – reason enough to become acquainted with the new product in the pre-series test.

Pre-series testing means that, at the time of writing this article, only the public beta version of RHEL 8 [1] was available, which naturally still has some bugs. This text is primarily about the new features that RHEL 8 offers – paying customers can assume that the final version will meet the usual Red Hat stability standards.

Target Groups

When Red Hat promises "profound" change, it is worth taking a closer look at that promise. In the past four years much has happened in terms of technology, and many new solutions have developed (e.g., Kubernetes). In RHEL 7, Docker and its support for Red Hat's container platform was not yet available because Docker itself was just a technology preview. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that many companies have run Docker on RHEL  7, presumably with Docker's own packages. Now, however, the solution has the official Red Hat blessing, with the new RHEL version taking a giant leap forward.

From the start, RHEL 8 was unlikely to change everything. Red Hat is faced with the thankless task of reconciling two completely different worlds. The first group comprises the traditional clientele, who see RHEL primarily as a tool for reliably equipping a server with an operating system. The new functions hardly play a role in this case, because stability is the highest goal. Admins of such systems respond very nervously if updates impair existing functions. This group prefers the old Debian update mantra: New packages are only needed to mend security holes or put critical functional problems to rights.

The other group of customers is fully committed to automation, the cloud, and containers and virtualization. Because of the "immutable underlay" principle, keeping every host of the platform in perfect condition at all times is not absolutely necessary. If one system fails, another takes over the tasks; later, the admin restores the system with an automated process. New features in management software (OpenShift, OpenStack, or Kubernetes) are given preference over unconditional stability.

Red Hat wants to address both target groups with RHEL 8 in some way (but not always directly) by pursuing an alternative strategy for Kubernetes, OpenStack, OpenShift, Ceph, and other products. RHEL has the task of providing a basic system that is then supplemented by packages from additional directories. Conversely, this also means that if RHEL 8 does not turn out to be the stable system everyone expects, sooner or later the add-ons based on the new version will also have problems.

Red Hat has much at stake. In fact, the first release of RHEL 8 has to be perfect for both scenarios described above.

Fedora Basis

Critics claim that Red Hat has offloaded the work on the main distribution into the community through the introduction of Fedora, subsequently cherry picking features for its own enterprise distribution, but that's not true. Although Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 is based on Fedora, it is by no means the case that Red Hat does not contribute anything to Fedora.

Quite the opposite: Most of the work that takes place on Fedora is still done by Red Hat people. Although they are happy about occasional community deliveries, the majority of the work is definitely not done by the community. Meanwhile, Fedora fans are pleased that the byproduct of the work on Red Hat's enterprise system is a desktop distribution that gets updates on a far more regular basis than does the enterprise version.

RHEL 8 inherits all the relevant system parameters from Fedora 28. The basis of the system is a reasonably up-to-date 4.18 kernel, which already officially has long-term support from Linux developers. At the time of the RHEL 8 release, however, it will already be a couple of months old; Linux 5.0 will have been available for a long time by then.

The problem is that RHEL 8 will not see a major update of a new kernel throughout its lifetime. Whereas Ubuntu offers the LTS kernel and provides its current LTS version with newer kernels, Red Hat takes a different approach and ports many bugfixes and drivers to the old kernel.

After some time, this means you have a genuine old-timer spiced up by a colorful mixture of ports. Admins are unlikely to care. If you buy the Red Hat Enterprise version, you will get support and can simply open a ticket if the kernel doesn't do what it should.

The 4.18 kernel in RHEL 8 can be run on four architectures: AMD64 (i.e., x86-64), 64-bit ARM, and the little-endian versions for IBM Power and IBM Z. For the majority of users, however, only AMD64 and perhaps ARM 64 are likely to play a role. The two ports for IBM architectures see Red Hat serving a fairly small and highly specialized customer segment.

Desktop

What many people tend to forget about enterprise distributions is that the systems are intended for both desktops and servers. However, Linux on the desktop is an issue in its own right; most users prefer the typical desktop distributions like Fedora or openSUSE to the enterprise versions.

Nevertheless, RHEL 8 also delivers graphics: Part of the package is the Wayland replacement for Xorg with Gnome 3.28, which is also the default desktop. The bond between Red Hat and Gnome is traditionally close, so this decision is not surprising. The classic Xorg X server is also available for those users who prefer this variant to the new Wayland option (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Wayland is the default X11 server in RHEL 8, but if you prefer Xorg, you will find it, as well.

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