Red Hat CTO Calls Linux on Itanium Enterprise-Ready

The release in May of Intel Corp.'s Itanium processor cleasr the way for Linux in high-end environments. Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat Inc., says he believes his company will lead the industry in bringing Linux to the enterprise.

The release in May of Intel Corp.'s Itanium processor cleasr the way for Linux in high-end environments. Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat Inc., says he believes his company will lead the industry in bringing Linux to the enterprise.

Red Hatreleased its version 7.1 for Itanium, clearing the way for 64-bit Linuxdeployments on commodity hardware. While Linux already supported the 64-bitAlpha and Sparc processors, Intel’s introduction of Itanium offers 64-bitprocessing on machines from a variety of vendors, offering the cost savings andstandardization that makes Linux attractive to many users.

While someusers may wait for the McKinley iteration before deploying IA-64 machines,Tiemann believes Red Hat is ready for the enterprise. “We consider it aproduction system,” he says, “what the market decides is up to them. Many userswill approach the initial Linux releases as test and development platforms,since they will want to qualify systems before introducing them into theenviroment. Regardless, Tiemann says, “We support it as a production release.”

Because Linuxalready supported 64-bit processors, such at Compaq Computer Corp’s Alphaprocessor, Tiemann says adapting Linux for Itanium did not present specialchallenges. “The code has been 64-bit clean for some time,” he says.Furthermore, the Itanium port may have improved the kernel. “We’re notcluttering up the kernel; we’re making it cleaner,” he asserts.

According toTiemann, many users will have little use for Itanium in the short run. Userswith high processing demands or the need to use more than 4GB of RAM will useItanium effectively, but in many cases Itanium will be a waste of resources.“There are certain applications where 32-bit will be the right answer for quitesome time,” he says.

Red Hat hadenterprise applications in mind when it developed the distribution. “It’s moregeared to the machine room than desktop applications,” Tiemann says. Althoughmany OEMs are pushing Itanium workstations for CAD/CAM  and engineering applications beforeenterprise server, he says the enterprise will drive the market for Itanium.

Tiemannbrushes away criticisms that Linux is unable to scale, noting that very fewmachines support more than eight Intel processors. “People have not producedmachines with more than eight processors for us to test on,” he says. At thispoint, the scalablity of the current kernel is sufficient for most application.“The 2.4 kernel rapidly put to rest the criticism that Linux can’t scale pasttwo or four processors,” Tiemann says, adding, “I don’t think this will be along-standing challenge.”

Tiemann alsobelieves that the focus on multi-processor scaling is a red herring, sinceclustering frequently provides a power advantage over multi-processor machines.He says that decades-old technical limitations have privileged SMP overclustering, but points to super-clustering running Linux as evidence of itspotential. “For people who need real scalability, if you’ve got a cluster oftwo-ways or four-ways, you’ve got tremendous computing power.”

Highavailability is another area where the Linux community is setting its sights.Tiemann believes that the Open Source model is ideal for developing highlyavailable systems, since so many users can test and contribute to the project.“It lets everybody interested in the problem work collaboratively.” However,since many contributors work independently, developing for high availabilitymay face some challenges. “Having access to enterprise class hardware is one ofthe hurdles we have to cross,” he says.

 Tiemann is unsure how many enterprises needvery highly available systems for running Datacenter applications, estimatingthere may be five worldwide. He also believes industry benchmarks such as theTransactional Performance Council’s TPC-C benchmark do not serve the averageuser. “There’s a tremendous mid-market where looking at the performance withoutlooking at cost makes no sense,” he says.

Regardless ofthe direction of Linux development, Tiemann is certain that Red Hat will stayat the top of Enterprise Linux adoption, “At the enterprise level, there reallyseems to be a consolidation around Red Hat.”