Oracle Updates 'Unbreakable' Linux Kernel - InformationWeek
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Oracle Updates 'Unbreakable' Linux Kernel

Virtualization awareness, new file system, better memory management added to Oracle's optimized Linux for database operations.

Oracle upgraded its version of Linux Tuesday so that it knows whether it's on its own server or running in a virtual machine. The second release of the Oracle-produced Unbreakable Linux kernel is virtualization-aware.

Times have changed. Oracle didn't used to recommend that its database run in a virtual machine. As virtualization began to invade the data center, Oracle customers repeatedly complained that Oracle technical support only reluctantly assisted with a virtualized system problem, and then only if it could be replicated outside the virtual machine.

Today, that's changed. Database systems are often run in virtual machines and, with Linux the operating system that's growing fastest in the Oracle customer base, Oracle wants customers to be able to have a virtualization-sensing operating system.

The second release of the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel in Oracle Linux can sense whether it's running on bare metal or in a virtual machine and respond accordingly. Virtualization awareness, sometimes referred to as paravirtualization, is a benefit because the operating system then knows how to use hooks to, say, an iSCSI device driver that allows it to bypass a call to a software emulation of a peripheral device. The operating system knows the virtualization environment will support the special device driver and makes use of it. The adaption lowers the overhead of virtualization and speeds up database system operations.

[ Want to learn what the first release of "unbreakable" Linux looked like? See Oracle Releases 'Unbreakable' Linux Kernel. ]

Previously, operating on both a bare metal server and a virtualized server would have required two separate versions of Oracle Linux. Now one version can do both, without human configuration.

Oracle's Sergio Leunissen, VP of Linux product management, and Monica Kumar, senior director of marketing, said in an interview that the Oracle kernel is based on the 3.0.16 release of the kernel emanating from the open source Linux kernel development project.

That means it includes the Btrfs file system, which allows a single Linux system to scale up to a wider variety of storage systems containing as much as 16 exabytes. Btrfs is sometimes referred to as Butter FS and is the first Linux file system that is optimized for solid state disks, with ease of administration features and built-in data checking capabilities.

Another new feature with the Release 2 kernel is Transparent Hugepages, which manage memory in 2-MB units versus 4-KB, "significantly reducing the bookkeeping of memory management" for applications that need lots of memory, said Leunissen. Leunissen said Oracle's Linux development team contributes all its new features back to the open source kernel development project.

The Oracle-produced Unbreakable Linux Kernel was launched in September 2010 after Oracle and Red Hat parted ways over how frequently the kernel in Red Hat Enterprise Linux should be updated and what Oracle-recommended improvements should be included. Up until then, Oracle had sold its products as running on Red Hat Linux. Leunissen said Oracle still frequently distributes its database and applications with Oracle Linux's Red Hat-compatible kernel to those customers who choose that option.

An advantage of Oracle producing its own version of Linux is that its development team can optimize features for best performance with its 11g database system. When Oracle launched Unbreakable Linux, it said it would charge half as much for technical support as Red Hat. Wall Street responded by pummeling Red Hat stock over the next few days. A few months later, Red Hat finished its fiscal 2011 on Feb. 28, 2011, with $909 million in revenue, up $161 million from the year before. On March 28, it will report whether it will be the first pure-play open source company to cross the $1 billion mark with its report on fiscal 2012 revenue. It increased revenue 28% in its second quarter; 23% in its third quarter.

The term "unbreakable" to describe the kernel is an Oracle marketing term borrowed from its previous "unbreakable" technical support program for Linux.

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