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A Decade of Red Hat Enterprise Linux Technical Innovation

Red Hat is proudly synonymous with technical innovation – culminating in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution. The customer adoption statistics speak volumes to the practical value in IT deployments that have made Red Hat Enterprise Linux the leading open source enterprise distribution. Other blogs in the 10th anniversary of Red Hat Enterprise Linux series have described the substance behind the product value, including collaborative development with partners, rigorous planning and customer involved requirements gathering. This blog focused on the role of technology innovation and how it can lead to customer benefits from the relationship with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux development team.

When we embarked on building the first true enterprise grade Linux distribution 11 years ago, some of the key technical challenges included:

  • Hardware Enablement – offering the latest computers and peripherals that dependably allow end-users to harness the hardware potential while providing a hardware abstraction layer facilitating an ISV ecosystem. Previously, primarily due to lack of cross-vendor collaboration in a meticulously planned release, hardware enablement was hit-or-miss and often required the customer to cobble together the right drivers.
  • Scalability – back then, Linux adoption in the enterprise was relegated to lightweight functions. In order to supplant the then dominant proprietary Unix offerings, substantial advancements were needed especially in virtual memory, scheduler, I/O, and networking.
  • Development Environment – development and debugging tools played a crucial role in enabling the construction of a performant and reliable platform as well as being the foundation of an ISV ecosystem.
  • Integration and Usability – prior to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Linux rarely “just worked” out of the box – requiring a guru to get the extra pieces and configuration rebuilds necessary to cobble together a fully working system. A key reason is that a Linux distribution contains thousands of discrete components. Since all of these thousands of components are evolving at their own pace (through cycles of immature instability to product readiness), it is a daunting challenge to have the skill set to filter out the right versions of components that are enterprise ready.

These technical challenges were impediments to enterprise adoption. What did Red Hat do to overcome these challenges, thereby making Linux consumable in the enterprise? We got very involved in a vast number of different dimensions. Independent surveys bear this out – the Linux Foundation surveys of kernel contributions have consistently demonstrated Red Hat ’s #1 contributor position. Similarly in the GNOME census, Red Hat engineers are leading the technical contribution. The Fedora Project community development distribution lead by Red Hat during the past decade has been a hotbed of integration of the thousands of components. The development environment tool chain such as gcc, glibc, and gdb, have a consistent history of leadership contributions by the Red Hat Enterprise Linux development team.

Fast forward through the 10 year history of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The founding principles of upstream community innovation leadership persisted throughout. While the areas of contribution are too many to enumerate here, below are some of the most significant innovation deliveries driving Red Hat Enterprise Linux leadership.

  • World Record Benchmarks – Red Hat Enterprise Linux has become a distribution of choice routinely used in record setting benchmarks in a variety of workloads, including database, messaging, I/O rates, floating point computation, power savings, and virtualization scalability.
  • Security – integrating the levels of security found in Red Hat Enterprise Linux in an off-the shelf commercial offering is an industry first. Previously many proprietary UNIX offerings provided their security enhanced versions as side-forks that languished in time from feature development. SELinux security enhancements, the foundation of stringent government certifications, has long been a standard Red Hat Enterprise Linux feature, and is often lacking even to this day in our competitors’ offerings.
  • Virtualization – Red Hat Enterprise Linux engineers have been a driving force behind the KVM implementation in Linux. By being tightly integrated it is able to harmoniously utilize, rather than duplicate, functions provided within standard Linux. This win-win implementation approach has allowed KVM to become a disruptive force in virtualization adoption – displacing expensive proprietary offerings – analogous to what the combination of Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Intel and AMD commodity hardware did in displacing proprietary UNIX many years prior.
  • Storage Management – in the early days of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, customers often had to utilize expensive proprietary offerings to configure storage. The introduction of LVM volume management allowed for flexibility, scalability, and increased levels of reliability. Other leadership storage advancements include NFS file serving and cluster file systems.

Most of the above technical innovations are geared to provide an optimized operating system platform allowing for efficient utilization of a single system. These advancements allowed Red Hat Enterprise Linux to supplant the majority of proprietary UNIX enterprise usage, which continues to this day. However, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux development team is a restless bunch – a perfect match for our enterprise customer base which has an insatiable appetite to attack additional challenges. Today Red Hat Enterprise Linux development has been continuing the drive technical leadership in:

  • Cloud – the majority of cloud deployments today are Linux-based primarily because the consuming audience seeks efficiency and flexibility of deployment. The Red Hat Enterprise Linux product set has advanced in the cloud arena by providing a consistent, stable environment allowing for the same Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform to be used in physical and virtualized deployments, both in on-premise and hosted deployments. This offers customers unique freedom of choice and flexibility.
  • Developer Tools and Deployment Platform – the rise of middleware, primarily Java-based along the lines of Red Hat JBoss Middleware Solutions, requires integration and optimization with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform. This facilitates both developers and IT infrastructure deployment with confidence.

The same core values of interacting with customers to understand their needs, leadership development in a wide variety of open source initiatives, and production of a stable foundation platform were the formula and values we embarked on 10 years ago and continue to serve us well today. The result has been an impressive rate of technical advancement balanced with the compatibility and stability that is uniquely derived from a test regiment built up from 10 years of production experience. This has resulted in a trusting relationship between Red Hat development and our customers who are instrumental in shaping the product. While all our customers value the Red Hat Enterprise Linux product today in their production environment, the other side if the coin is the confidence in where we want to collectively bring the distribution in the future. The consistent leadership in such a wide variety of Linux components forms the basis of value in the ability to deliver enterprise-grade, quality offerings spanning upcoming generations of releases.

To draw an analogy – consider the construction of a large-scale office building. A wide range of companies have access to a similar range of raw materials. Certainly you wouldn’t entrust this endeavor to a do-it-yourself-er untrained crew. Nor would you put the job in the hands of a company that solely possesses niche expertise, such as elevators. Nor would you entrust the job with a firm because they obtained a copy of the blueprint and purport that they could understand the intricacies of the build and dependably produce it. Rather, such a complex task is best entrusted to a builder with a proven track record and demonstrated strength in a wide diversity of architectural design, building topics as well as materials procurement. Similarly, other Linux vendors have access to many of the same components. Yet it stands to reason that the company leading the innovation in a wide diversity of mission critical components is best positioned to do the complex selection and integration of product-ready components, provide ongoing support, and continue to push the envelope into the future.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow – this is the foundation of trust and value between Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the customer base that consistently selected it as the leading Linux distro for the past 10 years running. And, we’re just getting started! We expect upcoming advancements in cloud, virtualization, scalability, developer tools, and manageability to provide ample opportunity for Red Hat Enterprise Linux to continue to being a disruptive force in the industry. Bringing increased levels of IT infrastructure efficiency to solve real-world challenges of the most demanding customer base in the world.

Sure, it’s great to take a moment to look back on how the Red Hat driven innovations have fueled the adoption success of Red Hat open source solutions. But we’ve long since moved on, digging in on successive waves. The challenges are more complex than when we launched Red Hat Enterprise Linux 10 years ago, yet the core values of community-driven innovation that served so well continue to be a great foundation for the future. No doubt the next 10 years are likely to be even more exciting than the past 10. On behalf of the entire Red Hat Enterprise Linux team, we thank our highly engaged customer base and look forward to continuing this journey together.