Suse Linux Enterprise 12 goes light on Docker, heavy on reliability

Update to Suse's Linux distribution for enterprises emphasizes reliability and support over bleeding-edge tech

Linux
Credit: gnuckx/Flickr

With the release of its Linux Enterprise 12, German vendor Suse's breed of Linux stands out from the Red Hat/Ubuntu pack by being more resilient and dependable, even as it lags in other areas where IT and Linux are advancing fastest.

With Enterprise 12, Suse stresses high availability and recoverability. Nearly every aspect of the system can be rolled back with one click, including whole service packs and kernel upgrades, by way of the Snapper file-system snapshot tool.

Linux Enterprise 12 also includes the new Kgraft kernel-splice technology, which allows a Linux system's kernel to be updated on the fly without stopping or rebooting the system. Oracle has a similar technology for its Linux distribution, but only as a proprietary offering; Suse offers Kgraft as an open source solution.

Suse is now competing with other late-model enterprise Linux distributions in containerization and system modularization. Modules, as explained in an interview with Matthias Eckermann, senior product manager for Suse, provides groups of related software packages -- such as Web and scripting languages (PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails) -- in a single bundle that is supported for three years and refreshed every 18 months with the newest editions.

With this, said Eckermann, the user has "a predictable road map" for working with the software. "They start today with one version [of the software in the module]," he explained, "they know that this version is supported for three years; and after 18 months or so, we will provide a new version which then lives another three years."

Modules mean Suse can provide predictable support for each module, and not simply on version control or package management. Suse offers 10 years of support for each discrete version of Suse Linux Enterprise, but the idea is to support sets of frequently changing components within the OS.

Where Suse lags is in support for Docker, a key technology embraced by most other Linux distributions.  While Suse claims it has provided commercial support for Linux containers since 2012, it's only recently added Docker support to Suse Linux Enterprise as a "technical preview." Those on Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Ubuntu or who have adopted CoreOS as a platform have already been able to leverage Docker as a platform-level feature. To that end, adding Docker support is less of a move to make Suse Linux into an attractive alternative to competing platforms, but rather to (slowly) bring Docker to its existing user base.

Most of Suse's innovations with Linux revolve around technical advancements that improve Linux from the bottom up, not the top down. Aside from developing Kgraft, Suse has produced its own OpenStack distribution powered by Dell's Crowbar and the Chef automation system to ease the setup process. Suse has also collaborated closely with Microsoft to make Suse Enterprise Server "the highest-performing guest OS on Hyper-V."

Likewise, the changes in Suse Linux Enterprise 12 focus more around lower-level functionality, rather than any major reinvention of Linux. For those who have already built on top of Suse, that's less of an issue, especially if they value stability and dependability over bleeding-edge newness.

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