Novell rolls up last service pack for SUSE Linux 10

Extends security, critical patch support to a decade

Novell has grabbed all the latest snippets of code suitable for patching up its SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 operating system and rolled them into Service Pack 4. This is the last Service Pack planned for version 10 of the desktop and server platform.

SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, in desktop and server editions, was launched in July 2006 and was supposed to be the Linux distro that - thanks to integrated Xen virtualization and more aggressive pricing - closed the sales and technical gap between Novell's Linux business and that of rival Red Hat. While that didn't exactly happen – the gap between Red Hat and Novell is arguably larger on the revenue front than it was five years ago – Novell remains in the commercial Linux racket, and has shifted its energies to SUSE Linux Enterprise 11. That made its debut in March 2009 and got its first Service Pack update last May. Interestingly, that SP1 update put Red Hat's KVM hypervisor at parity inside the SUSE Linux release, alongside the Xen hypervisor that Novell has championed along with Citrix Systems, which controls the Xen hypervisor.

The release notes for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP4 are probably what most people care about, as SLED 10 hasn't made much of a dent on corporate desktops. SLES 10 SP4 includes a slew of new drivers for network devices, storage devices, and the latest x64 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. This includes updated Opteron 4100 and 6100 processors from AMD and the new Xeon E7 chips from Intel. It is not clear if SLES 10 SP4 supports the new Power7 chips that IBM announced today. SP4 for SLES 10 does support IBM's System zEnterprise 196 mainframes, launched last July. Novell says that SP4 adds support for HyperPAV, which is a parallel access method for disk volumes to reduce contention on IBM mainframes.

Hot add memory on a number of different IBM System x servers is in technical preview with SP4, and presumably will remain freeze-dried in that form on SLES 10, given that this is the last update. The update also includes support for various cryptographic co-processors that sometimes get plunked into servers to offload the heavy algorithm crunching work.

SP4 is a cumulative release, which means every patch that Novell has made to the server or desktop versions of SUSE Linux 10, as well as to the related software development kit it distributes, has been rolled into it.

'Unix-caliber lifecycle'

In addition to the SP4 rollout, Novell has tweaked its Long Term Service Pack Support (which for some reason the company abbreviates LTSS) to extend it from x86 and x64 platforms, which were already eligible for extended support contracts, to IBM's System z mainframes, which are now given the bigger support umbrella starting today.

With a normal SUSE Linux release schedule, the plan is to put a new version and then do Service Pack updates every 18 months or so. Each initial version or Service Pack is supported for six months beyond the launch of the next update, giving two years of coverage for each release. Novell guarantees support for seven years for that version, with each successive Service Pack supported for around two years. (So to get all of those seven years for a version, you have to keep reasonably current on Service Packs.) Under the LTSS, Novell provides five years of support for Service Packs on a version of SUSE Linux instead of the normal two, which has the effect of extending overall support from seven years to a decade. The change in support for Service Packs, which applies to the older SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 and newer 11 versions alike, also means that customers can skip an update or two throughout the lifecycle of a decade-long installation and still keep current with bug and security patches.

Novell is offering the LTSS extended support on x86, x64, and IBM System z platforms, according to a Novell spokesman; the company is not offering extended support on the Itanium or Power versions of SUSE Linux, but the spokesman said that Novell would consider it if there was sufficient customer demand.

Novell's Linux is the preferred Linux, and by a wide margin, on IBM's System z mainframes, so it stands to reason that the company would try to squeeze some long-term revenue out of that installed base, which has taken more than a decade to build up. The mainframe base as well as the various Unix bases move at glacial paces these days. Windows and Linux are starting to slow down, too, as they move from good-enough to enterprise-class. Novell's soon-to-be owner, Attachmate, knows a thing or two about milking legacy installed bases for fun and profit. The first thing you do is let people stay on the software they want for as long as they want, but you always charge a premium for staying behind.

Novell did not announce the pricing for the LTSS contract, so we have to presume it is a premium over the normal support contract price for SUSE Linux.

Moving forward, here is how SUSE Linux support will work. In years one through four of general support, customers can make requests for enhancements while Novell keeps the kernel and drivers updated for all the new hardware that comes along, at the same time fixing defects, doing critical patches, and providing installation and configuration support for the SUSE stack. In year five, based on partner and customer demand, Novell will do hardware enablement and optimizations, but then you can forget about getting any enhancements to the SUSE stack. In years six and seven, Novell will do defect resolution, but only on a limited basis for defects at the severity level 1 or 2. For years eight through ten, you are paying for LTSS to get the support level you had in years six and seven – and presumably at a decent premium. You can do standard (12x5) or priority (24x7) support contracts for LTSS on SUSE Linux, just as you can for normal support contracts from Novell. ®

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