SUSE wheels out first public prototype of its server Linux distro, asks for feedback

As we reported back in July, the future direction of SUSE Linux Enterprise is starting to take shape, and it's containers all the way down.

The Adaptable Linux Platform (ALP) prototype's internal version number is 0.01, so it has a long way to go yet, but it's ready for you to start experimenting. SUSE has already published some background information, and there's a 50-page manual too.

After community feedback, the new OS will require only x86-64 version 2 support, not the version 3 support that was bruited earlier in the year.

The first demonstration version, code named "Les Droites" after the first peak to surpass 4,000 meters in the Alps, is available for download.

At this stage, two QCOW2 disk images for x86-64 machines are available: one unencrypted, and one with full disk encryption enabled. The plan is that this will support either conventional passphrase entry to unlock the image when the server or VM boots, or work with a hardware TPM chip, as SUSE Distinguished Engineer Olaf Kirch explains, with some demo code to match.

Luboš Kocman, SUSE release manager for openSUSE Leap and Leap Micro, also has a short series of demonstration videos, showing the process of starting an ALP VM both with and without disk encryption, and deploying two demonstration containers with Podman: one containing the text-based version of SUSE's YaST system administration tool, and the other with the Cockpit web admin tool.

At this stage, the new OS looks very much like openSUSE MicroOS or SLE Micro, both of which were released some time ago. The current openSUSE MicroOS can be configured as a desktop OS, which is an ideal way to explore it if you want to get a feel for the new design. ALP is similar enough that the company told us we could follow existing MicroOS tutorials such as this video on deploying the NGINX web server.

The base ALP OS is very minimal - the unencrypted disk image is just over 300MB - and has an immutable, read-only root filesystem kept on Btrfs. A read-only root filesystem is much more robust against disk corruption in the event of a system crash or power outage. Additional packages or updates are stored in separate snapshots, meaning that if the system doesn't start up correctly, it will be self-healing: it will be able to automatically reboot into the last-known-good snapshot.

This is a bold play for SUSE. It could succeed splendidly, or it could doom one of the oldest Linux vendors around that was recently made independent.

The argument for this move is that, as the launch material for systemd on Windows Subsystem for Linux showed, many younger techies deploying Linux servers expect to use containers managed by systemd - it's how modern cloudy workloads are run. This vulture enthused about the potential of containers two years before Docker launched, and for once hit the nail on the head.

This model of OS development should make a distro that is more resilient, easier to manage, and still very adaptable. One of the benefits of containerized apps is that it's perfectly possible to deploy containers containing the userland of one distro on top of a totally different distro, so a future container-based SLE could run RHEL containers or Ubuntu containers, and the apps inside them will be none the wiser.

On the other hand, the arguments against it are significant too. There will probably be no upgrade path possible from the existing, conventional SLE OS to the new one. SUSE also wins some fans from its free openSUSE Leap distro - you can even migrate a free Leap install into paid, supported SLE. Linux old-timers are often not so keen on containers, not to mention systemd and cross-distro packaging, and this new style of OS will be unfamiliar, which could turn them against it.

But fortune favors the brave, and this could enable SUSE to seize a strong lead in enterprise Linux. The company plans to release a new prototype about every three months, and to launch the product in around a year's time - fall 2023. ®

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