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Novell's SLES 11 is packed to the gills and keeps moving at a decent clip

New features home in on improved management, integrated virtualization

By Tom Henderson and Brendan Allen, Network World Lab Alliance, Network World
April 27, 2009 12:05 AM ET

Network World - In our Clear Choice test of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 11, we found it to be packed with useful management tools, to have virtualization threaded though many of its processes, and to perform at rates close to the high bar set by past versions of the Linux bundle.

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Installation is very similar to SLES 10, but included some new options. For example, there is a server scenario selection process and the choices include: Physical machine (also used for fully virtualized VMs), Virtual Machine (for paravirtualized environments like Xen) and Xen Virtualization Host (for use as a hypervisor host platform). These match the increasing number of choices allowed for Windows 2008 server editions, where VM substrates are now a part of the front-end, pre-install process.

The Xen hypervisor has been updated to Version 3.3.1. The default SLES 11 file system is now ext3. Although the previous default file system, reiserfs, is still supported, as are others including ext2, jfs, and NTFS.

The default local security policies in general seem to be a bit more restrictive. For example, when trying to shutdown the machine, the root/admin password is required by default.

There is an entirely new software management subsystem called ZYpp that is used in conjunction with the long-favored YaST setup tool to correlate the dependencies of applications with other system applications while upgrading software packages thereby helping to thwart incompatibility issues. In testing we found ZYpp speedier than previous tools, as it automated software dependency checks and delivered updated software more quickly than we've seen.

New stuff in the management and security realms for SLES 11 includes an open source program called Nagios -- a networking monitoring tool that watches network access activity for different workstations on your network.

Nagios Version 3.0.6 has a Web-based interface – so an Apache Web server must be installed as well. The default configuration needs a little fine-tuning but most of the options were pre-configured. Nagios can check whether different network services (for example SMTP, POP3, HTTP) are running, then create alerts by e-mail, cell phone or page if something stops responding. Also, Nagios has the capability to monitor basic host resources, processor load and disk usage. We turned off some services and Nagios detected it quickly and proceeded to send an e-mail to the appropriate place.

SLES 11 also includes an updated version of StrongSwan, which is an IPSec stack that can be used for creating either site-to-site or remote user VPN connections. StrongArm has been upgraded to support IPv6 tunneling. We did not test this VPN service.

Also there is a Web-based graphical management tool for IKEv2 encryption key management for various applications, including the IPV6 IPSec VPNs now permitted with StrongSwan.

And, finally, Novell has produced a YaST Security module, which consolidates a raft of formerly separate settings (file permissions, and login restrictions parameters, as a few examples) into a single and comprehensive (and finally usable) user interface. For instance, during testing we were able to make policy settings changes, and form user folder permissions without having to leap back and forth between formerly disparate user interfaces.

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