Beta 1 of the server is slated to be available in late July and Beta 2 " which will incorporate the Fedora Core 6 build -- is planned for release in mid September, said Daniel Riek, a product manager for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, based in Westford, Mass.
The current Fedora Core 5 is pre-alpha code, Red Hat executives said.
At Red Hat Summit in Nashville, the leading Linux company also announced the final feature set for its next generation server and desktop platform.
RHEL 5 will include core virtualization based on the Xen open source virtualization hypervisor as well as integration with the company's directory and certificate servers. It will also offer support for Intel and AMD virtualization extensions, stateless Linux clients, single sign-on and an improved driver model for third party ISVs.
Novell also has integrated Xen into its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 distribution that was formally announced in March and is expected to ship this summer.
Red Hat is confident it will stick to its planned ship date of December 2006 but it is dependent in some respects upon the open source Xen virtualization project, said Nicholas Carr, a director of product marketing at Red Hat.
Xen is up and running in production at several Red Hat customer sites but the constantly changing application binary interfaces could impact schedules going forward, he said.
"The release schedule depends on Xen readiness It's the only real gatekeeper on the schedule," Carr said. "If Xen isn't ready, we'll wait until it is and there isn't anything else we'll wait for."
Red hat also plans changes to product packaging to address the complexity of virtualization. Namely, Red Hat will release only one ISO image for all variants of the OS, those executives said.
Red Hat Professional Services arm will begin offering virtualization evaluation and migration services starting this summer, after beta 1 ships, he said.
Version 5 also offer support for creating stateless Linux clients, new SystemTAP and Frysk development tools and new disk dumping technologies such as Kexec and kdump to improve security while not inviting crashes, executives said.
Native stateless Linux client support won't be included in this release but is slated for the next release. Even so, support for creating stateless Linux clients in RHEL 5 will enable centralized management of clients and enable hot migrations, Red Hat said.
Although version 5 offers a long list of other new features and improvements, built-in virtualization is undoubtedly the crown jewel, Carr said.
"Its spotlight is shining so brightly its eclipsing everything else shining in there," Carr said. "It's the main driver of RHEL 5. Virtualization is a major play."
Red Hat also plans to incorporate management interfaces to integrate third-party products and build management and monitoring tools.
Eventually, Red Hat plans to offer a full server, storage and management virtualization platform by harnassing its own cluster suite and Global File System 2 on Xen.
One open-source consultant said Xen is the key reason customers will migrate to the next platform.
"Virtualization is pretty important, as people use it for security and server aggregation," said Chris Maresca, a principal at Olliance Consulting., Palo Alto, Calif.
The Raleigh, NC software company also plans to release this summer RHEL 3 Update 8 and RHEL 4 Update 4.
The update for RHEL 3 is due July 14. Update 4 for RHEL 4 offer support for Infinband, GCC 4.1, Logical Volume manager mirroring and other improvements to the Mozilla browser.