Constructing Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4

How do you put together a stable Linux distribution better and faster? Get adamant about pushing your changes upstream, maintain a community test distribution and bring developers from partner companies on-site.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4 Requirements Planning

With this increasingly diverse user base comes a correspondingly large set of requirements. Example requirements include bug-fix requests, software feature addition and hardware enablement. By far, our biggest challenge is to strive to prioritize customer bugs and feature requests to identify the set that yields broadest general usefulness.

In the initial planning phases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4, we carefully reviewed more than 500 feature requests. This was accomplished in numerous marathon sessions of feature reviews interspersed with countless hours of follow-up scoping of the viability and developer time required to deliver. Below are some of the main themes we tried to focus on in Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4:

  • Security.

  • 2.6 kernel.

  • Storage management.

  • Ease of use, particularly in the desktop.

Highlights of each of these main themes appear in upcoming sections.

On-Site Partners

In addition to an increased user base since the introduction of Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.3, we also have fostered closer working relationships with a growing set of hardware and software partners. We recognize that the operating system itself is only one layer in an overall solution stack that end customers need in order to make Linux practical for them in solving their computing needs. For this reason, we work closely with our partners in terms of identifying our priorities, aligning schedules and addressing issues critical in enabling their hardware and software.

Our hardware and software partners increasingly are seeing value in working closely with Red Hat. Historically, it has been highly challenging for us to accommodate the insatiable and diverse requirements from our partners. As much as we would like to satisfy everyone, ultimately we do have a finite staff and time frame in which to do this work. In response, we have invited many of our partners to join us inside Red Hat to work along side our developers to augment our staff to achieve mutually beneficial objectives. For example, we currently have multiple on-site staff members from IBM, Intel, SGI, HP, Fujitsu and NEC. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Increased delivery of feature enhancements and bug fixes.

  • Better communication at the engineering level.

  • Faster turnaround time to address problems. When it comes to the short time windows involved in new platform support, these efficiencies have yielded support that otherwise would have been deferred to the next update cycle.

  • Partners get an inside view into how the Open Source community functions and how to become effective community participants.

  • Fostering friendships from people around the world.

The on-site partner contribution benefits the product set beyond the parochial interests of the sponsoring company. For example, although the SGI team's primary mission was support of their large CPU count Altix platform, a side effect was overall improvement in scalability in generic layers, which benefits all architectures. Another example is the work the Fujitsu team accomplished by adding diskdump support. Other hardware partners have augmented this support in Red Hat Enterprise Linux to yield improved problem analysis capability by our collective support organizations.

Numerous on-site partners are here from Japan. We invited them to join us at Boulder Morty's indoor rock climbing gym. It's amazing how much trust it fosters to be hung 40 feet up on a rope with your new-found friends. Given that English isn't their primary language, I often wonder how much of the introductory rock climbing instruction they understood before we gave them the “Go!” thumbs up. Figure 1 shows the Red Hat and partner crew out for our weekly climbing session.

Figure 1. The Red Hat rock stars out for a night of climbing.

Security

One of the major themes of Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4 was security. Security considerations prevail throughout the entire distribution. For example:

  • Increased compile time checking for buffer overflows, stack overflows, bounds checking, initialization and correctness checks have been added to the compiler. We have defensively incorporated these checks into our internal build processes. Having core GCC compiler developers on staff enables them to provide such constructive recommendations for defensive programming.

  • Increased kernel and runtime loader provisions to prevent execution of malicious code and blocking of common stack overflow techniques. This has resulted in Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4 not being vulnerable to a large class of exploits (see Resources).

  • Participation and monitoring of several industry consortiums whose missions are to share security exploit information and work on common resolutions.

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