At last week's Red Hat Summit in Boston, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 was unveiled, the latest and greatest edition of Red Hat's signature operating system. Red Hat is billing it as being "redesigned for the hybrid cloud era and built to support the workloads and operations that stretch from enterprise datacenters to multiple public clouds."
That's not surprising coming from a company that's been billing itself as a cloud company instead of as a Linux company, which is how it got its start, for a number of years. It was already a long-time proponent of hybrid cloud five years ago when RHEL 7, the previous major release, was first ready for download, and that was a time when the cloud was just getting into high gear, containers were just starting to show their promise, and "DevOps," "agile," and "microservices" had not yet become the buzzwords of the decade.
These days, the company earns much of its money building tailored hybrid cloud systems for enterprises, so designing RHEL 8 to help users take advantage of cloud native technologies and DevOps workflows was a no-brainer, as it plays into Red Hat's hand. It's also central to IBM, which shelled out $34 billion to buy Red Hat, hoping to buoy its own aspirations for dominance in the hybrid cloud arena.
"Clouds are built on Linux operating systems, by and large, and containers not only require a Linux operating system underneath them, but also most containers actually have a Linux distribution in them," Gunnar Hellekson, Red Hat's senior director of product management, told Data Center Knowledge at Red Hat Summit. "The choices that we make in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 are focused not just on the existing Red Hat Linux traditional use cases, but also focusing on these new cloud and container use cases as well."
Keeping "traditional use case" customers happy, those running Linux on-premises or in colocation facilities to support monolithic legacy applications, is also near the top of Red Hat's agenda, since plain vanilla support contracts remain the single largest source of income for the company. The company was quick to reassure traditional enterprise users attending the summit that RHEL 8 remains the rock steady operating system it's always been, and pointed out that it ships with "tens of thousands" of hardware configurations and thousands of ISP applications, both of which are especially important to traditional on-prem users.
But what Red Hat was selling was the new operating system's cloud native prowess, along with its added support for the DevOps workflow.
While the emphasis was on RHEL's new cloud and container capabilities, the most useful new features might be the improvements made in the way the OS interoperates with the DevOps model, which seeks to combine development and operations into a single unit. Red Hat's focus is to ease the burden on the ops side, freeing up teams to devote more time and energy to the dev side of the equation, while also addressing the changing face of data center workforces.
"In this latest release we've included a tool called the Web Console, which is a graphical interface to point and click your way through some basic systems management tasks," Hellekson said, "hopefully lowering the barrier of entry for people who are new to Linux."
Features such as Web Console, along with System Roles which supply consistent interfaces to automate routine systems administration tasks, are important to the DevOps model, where team members with little traditional admin experience often need to handle Linux administrative tasks.
Ansible-based System Roles were introduced in the last RHEL release, but have been expanded in RHEL 8, with particular emphasis placed on making sure automated system tasks will survive an upgrade to the next latest-and-greatest RHEL when it comes along.
"In the past, the problem has been when you move to a new version of the operating system you have to redo all your automation, because of new interfaces, things being named differently, and so on," Hellekson explained. "But with System Roles we're creating stability across the major releases so you don't have to retool when you do a new update."
This should be especially useful to DevOps teams going forward, since Red Hat plans for major versions of RHEL to be released more often, perhaps as often as every three years.
Another added feature to aid DevOps teams is Application Streams, which keeps databases, interpreters, and other third-party software bundled and supported in RHEL updated to the latest version, with control given to deny the update and stick with the version being used, or even to roll back to previous versions.
RHEL and the Hybrid Cloud
For cloud and containers, RHEL 8 includes features that normally would have to be installed and managed separately.
"Baked into the operating system we have what we're calling the Container Toolkit, which includes tools like Podman, Buildah, and Skopeo," Hellekson said. "We make these available in the operating system because we know customers rely on us to provide them that kind of basic fundamental tooling in order to build things like OpenShift, or even OpenStack."
Also important for hybrid cloud deployments, RHEL 8 makes it easy to build gold, also called "master," images for everything from bare metal to virtual machines to public clouds. This is important because even relatively small deployments will now usually need to scale across diverse platforms, at least from on-premises to cloud.
"If you're building a gold image, you have to build it one way for a physical server, then you have to build a virtual machine in a different way, and you're going to do it differently for the cloud provider," he said. "We have a tool upstream we call the Composer and a product we call the Image Builder, and this allows the customer to create a blueprint for their gold RHEL image."
The Image Builder can be accessed either through the command line or a GUI. When accessing through the interface, he said that with one button "a customer can make an ISO for physical servers, it'll make a virtual machine image for VMs, it will make an Amazon and Azure image, and so forth."
Hellekson also stressed the amount of effort that Red Hat has exerted to make sure the user experience is consistent across platforms, with no architecture-specific surprises.
"The hardware world has gotten a lot more fragmented than it was in the past," he said. "You have new architectures, like Power and Arm, that are beginning to ascend. You have the public cloud providers trying to compete against both each other and against the on-premise hardware providers, so they're trying to distinguish themselves with things like GPU acceleration, FPGAs, and things like that. The trick to being an operating system in an environment like that is you have to take all comers. You have to enable all of these different variants of the platforms and still provide that consistent experience."