Mandriva Linux Whiffs on Virtualization IntegrationBy Jason Brooks | Posted 2006-10-02 Email Print
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With its Corporate Server 4, Mandriva is challenging the Linux data center operating systems from Red Hat and Novell by offering broader support for virtualization technologies. It's a solid-sounding plan, but eWEEK Labs' tests of CS 4 show that it's longer on ambition than execution.
Mandriva's CS 4 is unique in its support for three different virtualization frameworks: Xen, OpenVZ and VMware. However, CS4 not only fails to advance the state of these frameworks on Linux, but, where Xen is concerned, CS4 falls short of the implementations now offered from Novell and Red Hat.
The Linux operating system offerings from Mandriva SA (the company formerly known as Mandrakesoft) have historically been recognized for their newbie-friendliness and their knack for giving usersprimarily desktop usersaccess to software components not readily available from bigger firms. Indeed, the French company's initial raison d'être was to offer users a Red Hat Linux clone with the graphical K Desktop Environment that Red Hat, at the time, didn't distribute.
Component flexibility remains a key selling point for CS 4, which Mandriva began shipping in September. Sites with a satisfactory service and support relationship with Mandriva should take Linux CS4 for a spin, to see whether the upgrade is worth undertaking.
However, administrators looking to deploy specific virtualization platforms on Linux should consider alternatives that have proven themselves in eWEEK Labs' tests.
Those interested in deploying a Xen-savvy Linux distribution, for example, would probably be better off with Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, which implements Xen. Based on our tests, Novell's Xen efforts are more mature than those of Mandriva's. Another Xen option worth investigating is XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.0, which, so far, is the best Xen implementation we've tested.
Companies interested in deploying OpenVZ virtualization can give CS4 a try, but we much prefer Debian GNU/Linux, which also offers OpenVZ-capable kernels.
Administrators interested in pursuing VMware's virtualization platforms may already be halfway there, as the company's offerings run on a wide-ranging list of host operating systemsfrom Windows to a handful of prominent Linux distributions, including free and fee-based options.
Mandriva CS 4 sells for $314, $414 or $654 with one, three or five years of maintenance support, respectively. Mandriva CS 4 supports x86 and x86-64 processor architectures. eWEEK Labs tested the 64-bit version on a single-processor Advanced Micro Devices Opteron system with 2GB of RAM.
It was the promise of virtualization flexibility that piqued our interest in Mandriva's Linux CS4, so it was disappointing to find that Mandriva's integration efforts aren't that far along.
To begin with, no VMware packages came along with Linux CS 4, which is available for a one-month free trial from my.mandriva.com/cs4/trial/. According to a Mandriva support representative, VMware packages are slated to become available soon, through the Linux CS 4 update channel.
The representative added that the VMware packages available directly from VMware would run fine on CS 4. We've had success running VMware Workstation, Server and Player on a wide range of Linux hostsboth explicitly supported and notso we don't doubt that the software runs just fine on CS4. But that's not the point. What we hope to see from Mandriva, in addition to an option to install VMware Server through the distribution's network repositories, is the availability of VMware drivers compiled to match the Mandriva kerneland subsequent kernel updates.
Without this driver availability, administrators must compile VMware drivers themselvesa relatively easy task, but one that requires that an otherwise superfluous compiler and associated tool set be installed on the VMware Server host.
Next Page: Another virtualization option.
Another Mandriva CS 4 virtualization option is OpenVZ, the open-source variant of SWsoft's Virtuozzo product that's similar in architecture to Sun Microsystems' Solaris Containers feature.
CS 4 ships with kernels that include the OpenVZ patch set. OpenVZ is not yet part of the mainstream Linux kernel, so there's a definite value in Mandriva including the patch set. However, Mandriva doesn't appear to have taken any steps to further integrate OpenVZ into CS 4, and the distribution's documentation makes no mention of OpenVZ. Rather, Mandriva support personnel directed us to the documentation available from the OpenVZ project site.
Mandriva needs to provide setup and management tools, and CS4-specific documentation, for OpenVZ before we'll consider the technology an integrated part of the product.
Xen also is currently absent from the mainstream Linux kernel, so it's nice to see that CS 4 provides a Xen-enabled kernel as well as documentation for setting up Xen virtual machines. However, Mandriva's Xen implementation lags well behind what's available with other distributions.
For example, when we first tested Xen on Red Hat Fedora Core and Novell SUSE distros, we were required to work around a compatibility issue between Xen and Linux's TLS (Thread Local Storage) libraries: We had to move /lib/tls to /lib/tls.disabled, lest we suffer reduced performance under a Xen-enabled kernel. In recent Fedora and SUSE versions, this hack is no longer necessary, but CS 4's documentation asked us to fiddle again with /lib/tls.
We did disable TLS as asked during tests, but we still experienced an overall slowdown. We tried disabling /lib64/tls, since we were running CS 4 on a 64-bit system, but this step rendered CS 4's RPM package manager unusable, so we had to reverse it.
Mandriva would do well to look into the Xen solutions that Red Hat and SUSE have pursued and integrate them into CS4after all, Red Hat and SUSE's work is open source and freely available to Mandriva for copying.
For system management and configuration tasks, Mandriva CS 4 offers administrators three different tool sets. Together, the tool sets cover most administration needs, but they would benefit from being better integrated with each other.
CS 4's tools for software management, basic hardware configuration, network settings, mount points, security, boot loader configuration and miscellaneous other tasks are collected in the Mandriva Control Center, which more or less resembles SUSE's Yast tool set but with fewer modules.
New in Mandriva CS4 is another, separate tool called FIBRIC (First Boot RPM Installer and Configurator). After we installed CS 4, the Web-based FIBRIC presented us with a list of roles that the CS 4 system could carry out. For instance, FIBRIC listed an Identity Server role, and offered to satisfy this role by installing an LDAP server, a Kerberos server or both.
We liked the roles-based installation options, but we were concerned that FIBRIC's Web interface didn't provide SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryptionparticularly given that FIBRIC required our root password to operate. Also, the configuration options that FIBRIC offered for the services we installed were rather thin.
This brings us to Mandriva CS4's third independent management tool set, courtesy of the open-source Webmin project (webmin.com). Webmin is a Web-based interface for system administration tasks on Linux and Unix, with Webmin modules available for handling most configuration tasks. Although Webmin isn't the default administration tool for any major Linux distribution of which we're aware, packages for the project are available for most distros. We'd like to see Mandriva more tightly embrace Webmin, and integrate the software more tightly.
At the time of our review, Mandriva's hardware compatibility database did not include information on CS 4. For the previous release of the distro, CS 3, there were seven x86-64 servers and 14 x86 servers listed as certified.
Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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