Up close with SUSE Linux Enterprise 12

New Chameleon



The name SUSE Enterprise Linux Server is actually a misnomer, because it immediately banishes the product to the server camp. Instead, what SUSE sent our editorial team is more correctly known as SLE 12. The name SLE stands for the SUSE Linux Enterprise.

The server is just an add-on on for the basic SLE platform. Although SLE will probably not be available as a separate product, version 12 is actually an important milestone in the history of SUSE.

SLES 12 will be available in several variants: Of course, the classic variant is SLES 12, the actual server. The vendor also provides add-on packages for SLES 12, including high availability and geo high availability (i.e., geographically dispersed clusters), as well as add-ons for SUSE's management service, Advanced Systems Management, a software development kit for SLES 12, and a legacy module for compatibility with previous versions.

You will also find a public cloud module and the SUSE Linux Enterprise Workstation Extension, which extends SLES, adding individual parts of the enterprise desktop. On top of this are separate products that were developed on the SLE 12 base that do not need the server, such as the enterprise desktop SLED.

Although these additional modules are mostly included in the SLES licenses, additional fees apply for some extensions, for example, for the HA extension.

SUSE maintains the core SLE 12 distro and then adds components that convert the platform into the SLES server or SLED desktop. Both flavors come with a few very interesting new features.

SLED 12: Hello Gnome?

SLED 12 comes with a big surprise: The desktop is Gnome 3. The new Gnome is a surprising choice because SUSE is closely linked with KDE in the minds of many users. For many years, KDE was the default SUSE desktop. In SLED 11, users had to choose between Gnome 2.4 and KDE 4.1. Both desktops were on an equal footing in SLED 11.

SLED 12 comes with Gnome 3, along with the matching shell, as the default environment. Packages for KDE are nowhere to be seen. In other words, SUSE is committing SLED users to Gnome 3 without an alternative. Bearing in mind the fact that Gnome 3 is about as popular as systemd with half of Linux world, this is a very dramatic decision that certainly remains a mystery.

Of course, enterprise systems are only viable if the vendor can keep the support costs low. Given that European users are more accustomed to KDE, and SUSE still has a far greater market share in Europe than in the Red Hat-dominated US, SUSE's reasons for ditching KDE remain a mystery.

SLES 12 for Virtualization

The changes in SLES are more subtle, but clearly SLES 12 is a redesigned product. One area that has undergone significant change is virtualization.

Of course, SLES already had support for standard virtualization tools such as KVM, but the latest version does a significantly better job with integrating containers. This happens in SLES 12 on the basis of the LXC container interface tool, which is seamlessly integrated with libvirt and the system's virtualization management. The ubiquitous Docker is also in place and available as a technology preview; you can try out the Docker software, but for now, SUSE will not provide support.

Those who use MySQL on SLES need to rethink in version 12: MariaDB is now the default, and it is fully covered by the framework of support contracts. No need for database admins to worry, however, because MariaDB bills itself as a "drop-in replacement" for MySQL.

In SLES 12, even the library packages go by the name of libmysql and can only be identified as MariaDB based on their version number (10.0). In other words, although this change is technically quite significant, it is unlikely to affect the admin's everyday life.

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