The next major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux isn't scheduled for general availability for another couple of years, making this the right time for Red Hat to get started on its development.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7 is now starting to take shape as the Linux vendor begins the multi-year process that will ultimately result in a new enterprise distribution release. RHEL 6 was officially released in November of 2010 and RHEL 7 is currently scheduled for release in 2013.
"RHEL 7 is two plus years out, which from an upstream perspective is pretty darn close," Ron Pacheco, Senior Director of Product Management at Red Hat told InternetNews.com "A lot of the work that we need to do has to be in process now, particularly in areas where we want to enhance efforts in the community or do things like helping the Linux kernel scale."
Pacheco noted that a lot of Red Hat's work is done in collaboration with the upstream community. From that perspective, Pacheco said that RHEL 7 related efforts have already been underway for the last six months since upstream development is a continuous process.
From a product planning perspective, Pacheco said that Red Hat is in the process of talking with many stakeholders to understand what people want from Linux. Going a step beyond what Red Hat has done historically in terms of customer and partner engagement for release requests, Red Hat is now opening up the process even more.
"We came up with a concept called RHEL 7 Ideas and the purpose of the group is to hear directly from our customers about features and technologies that they'd like to see supported," Pacheco said.
The RHEL 7 Ideas forum is part of the Red Hat customer portal and is a free-form discussion group. The forum was quietly launched directly to Red Hat's customers a few weeks ago and public press release about the forum is scheduled for release this week.
To date, Pacheco said that there have been conversations about filesystems, including XFS, btrfs and Ceph as well as threads about management tools like Puppet.
Another key topic being explored for RHEL 7 is the area of Unix to Linux migration and what additional tools are needed to facilitate that transition. Pacheco said that that there are conversations about SMIT (System Management Interface Tool) , which comes from IBM's AIX Unix.
"SMIT is a higher level aggregation system admin tool," Pacheco said. "Customers are looking to us to expand and simplify RHEL and ensure that there is a smooth migration for their IT administration from Unix to Linux."
He added that there is also demand for enhanced integration for Windows to Linux migrations, particularly in the area of ActiveDirectory. Pacheco said that from a customer perspective much of the feedback to date is around usability in an effort to help simplify Linux environment management.
From a broader Linux kernel perspective, Red Hat is talking with multiple vendor partners from the CPU and storage markets to see where things are headed.
"We're taking a very broad view and there is a lot of joint development with our partners, particularly around the kernel," Pacheco said.
While RHEL is sometimes thought of as just a server operating system there is also a desktop component that will also be an important part of RHEL 7.
"We are seeing a lot of requests around GNOME 3 and we're seeing KDE requests too, so that desktop battle for preferences will continue," Pacheco said.
Pacheco noted that the desktop isn't just for user desktops, but it's also an important part of managing the server component as well. He added that as RHEL moves into larger virtualized environment the desktop becomes increasingly important for management. There is also a need for a strong desktop in the developer community for development workstations.
Overall, Pacheco expects RHEL 7 to be an evolutionary release for Red Hat.
"When I look at RHEL 7, I don't see it as being revolutionary, by necessity it has to evolutionary," Pacheco said. "It has to be flexible enough to address bare metal to very large virtualized environment and the cloud."
By kickstarting the RHEL 7 ideas forum now, Red Hat is accelerating the development process faster than the process that led to the current RHEL 6 release. Pacheco said that instead of waiting for the beta to get feedback from customers, Red Hat is soliciting feedback much earlier in the process for RHEL 7 than what was done for RHEL 6.
"We want to be able to design a product that meets both the short and long terms needs of our customers," Pacheco said. "Customers understand that they are being heard directly by the development community. That improves the products we have today and it sets the stage for a new major release that will have the features and functionality they will need."