Testing the Enterprise Linux Load

We were impressed with the server-oriented features of TurboLinux Server, and its high configurability. The installation-time choices were plentiful, articulate and received high praise for do-it-once configuration.

TurboLinux Server was installed on the platforms in the lab on the first time with only a few hitches. TurboLinux Server also allowed us at install time (rather than after the installation as all other versions required) to choose an optimized kernel to use. We were given choices that allowed us to install specific kernels for i386, i586 (including Pentium, AMD K5+), i686 (Pentium Pro or Pentium II), and SMP versions of the aforementioned kernels -- or even one loaded from a floppy disk.

Installing the SMP versions of the kernel was troublesome on the older Compaq servers, but through trial and error we installed an SMP kernel at the lowest level after much exxperimentation and settings hunting. We would have liked more direction to make the older Compaq servers work with a more advanced kernel.

We also found that the TurboLinux X Window autoprobing of our graphics card hardware almost invariably made incorrect choices -- finding more dynamic random-access memory on the graphics adapter than there actually was, causing post-installation X Window blow-ups. These are small problems.

TurboLinux Server, like Caldera eServer, probed the network for settings -- and found the lab's firewall, domain and DNS server, and allowed us to make rapid installation configuration option choices based on perceived need.

Network administration under TurboLinux Server is done using X-terminal-based applications. These include tools such as TurboFTP, TurboPrintcfg, Turbonetcfg. While not quite GNOME-based GUIs, these applications allowed us, post-installation, to perform rapid and articulate configuration settings and change common enterprise server functions, such as DNS/Berkeley Internet Name Domain configuration, DHCP services, ISP-related services and time management. We liked them.

TurboLinux Server's installer was the only installation application that also asked whether a timekeeper server should be used, with a drill-down to its location. The installation-time, server options that were available were basic firewall system, basic mail system, Web server, Internet server and intranet server.

Several of the applications included with the TurboLinux product are valuable for the enterprise, including the back-up/restore utility, UPS control, the Tallyman eCommerce Suite and the OpenMerchant shopping cart.

TurboLinux Server documentation is strong and oriented toward use as an enterprise server. Installation and configuration options/implications are often discussed in detail. TurboLinux offers 60 days of e-mail-only support in this edition. The Turbolinux.com Web site also offers newsgroup, mailto and downloads, but lacks the strengths of Red Hat's support information and its Bugzilla, and Caldera eServer's ease of use.

Storm Linux 2000 Deluxe

Storm Linux is the new kid on the block. The Storm Linux 2000 Deluxe version isn't specifically tied to enterprise server use, but it includes a great deal of server-savvy. Storm Linux 2000 Deluxe contrasts with the Storm Linux 2000 Standard edition, which contains fewer features and fewer applications. A firewall edition of Storm Linux is also offered separately. Storm Linux is based on the Debian/GNU distribution, and adds "over 4,000 applications" to Debian/GNU.

We judged Storm Linux 2000 Deluxe as being the friendliest toward Windows-savvy installers, as its Installation Guide details installation and nomenclature in a clear and nonthreatening way toward that audience. Storm Linux recognized and installed on all of the hardware we used, but we often had to use a floppy-disk booted kernel as the boot CD was occasionally troublesome. Two GUIs are offered, KDE and Helix GNOME.

Storm Linux comes with an application called Storm Administration System (SAS), which is similar to LinuxConf (a "standard" administration application in Linux) in many ways. The SAS GUI's strength in our context was that it facilitates user/group management, network settings, printers, Network File System and Samba settings. SAS-administered security settings that we'd like to see were missing. Less germane SAS administrative components are settings for sound cards and X display settings. This approach to combining what are usually offered as separate applications into a single interface is convenient, although not especially compelling.

The Storm Linux installation guide was great, and the Storm Linux user guide was also well written. These would be great resources for Linux newbies. Stormix has a policy of 90 days of e-mail support and 60 days of telephone support. Two calls and an e-mail were ansswered quickly and correctly, and the customer service representative also offered advice on additional related configuration concerns. The support is very good but not over-the-top. The Stormix Web site isn't highly developed yet.

SuSE Linux 6.4

SuSE (pronounced "suzah") has its roots in Europe. Like Red Hat, it comes with an enormous amount of software -- some of it useful, and there are seven CDs crammed full.

SuSE 6.4 uses YaST Version 1 or 2 to install the operating system. We had mixed results using the SuSE YaST boot media on the Compaq DL380 and Proliant 3000 systems, and the SuSE kernels didn't work on them. We had to burn a custom CD with a recompiled kernel to make SuSE work -- even though it appeared that the YaST installer application might work as the installer found the Compaq media and correctly identified it. Later, we found that these two machines aren't "certified" for SuSE 6.4. The Hewlett-Packard system installations went smoothly.

Post-installation configuration of SuSE was easy. We found the SuSE 6.4 accompanying book to offer many configuration explanations and options, although not in great detail.

SuSE documentation is oriented to those unfamiliar with Linux, and provides clear instructions for installation and SuSE and Linux management basics. Technical support provided by purchasing the SuSE 6.4 edition at retail, however, is minimal. It's available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PST on Tuesdays and Thursdays; otherwise technical support is available via e-mail in this edition without the purchase of additional support. Both service avenues are available for 60 days from product purchase. We were dismayed that the SuSE Web site product registration form crashed on us with a timeout message. The message is that SuSE would prefer that an added-value support product be purchased. It should also be noted that SuSE recently released SuSE 7.0 -- including a new version targeting server usage, that wasn't available by our review deadline.

SuSE 6.4 has an extensive guide on network configuration issues. We were dismayed that instead of providing pertinent information, there were references to SuSE Professional Services.

SuSE also offers a tremendous amount of software oriented toward end users. We're waiting to see what the differences will be with SuSE 7.0 server.

Your load

Linux distros used to be conveniences, assortments of development components, end-user applications and tools. As distros evolve, the identity of a distro adds a lot of open source applications. The applications packaged with distros are taking on a more specific identity in server editions, and the release of the Linux 2.4 kernel will likely bring about a higher identification and targeted purposefulness of distros toward markets. Hang on for some rapid development in this space that will make these Linux distributions even better suited for your enterprise server environments.

This story, "Testing the Enterprise Linux Load" was originally published by Network World.

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