Enterprise Unix Roundup: Picking at the Red Hat Lock-In
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One of the minor ironies of the Linux world is the slight disconnect between the mantra of "choice" the most ardent advocates use to make the case for a multitude of graphical interfaces and the state of the North American enterprise Linux market, where a single distributor has dominated since the late '90s.
That distributor is, of course, Red Hat, and while the numbers analysts produce about its share of the Linux market vary, they consistently hover above 75 percent. The company is so dominant that it's not uncommon to hear less savvy executives simply refer to the distro as "Linux," which infuriates Debian, SUSE, and Mandrake devotees.
Some of those same devotees will tell you Red Hat's rise to dominance is merely a product of slick marketing. This ignores several other things Red Hat brought to the table, including aggressive partnership-building with key enterprise software players (Oracle, for instance) and hardware vendors (like Dell). Other Linux distributors may provide competent offerings, but Red Hat made it to the enterprise market "firstest with the mostest," and never looked back.
To the extent that it's just given Red Hat's most credible competitor its imprimatur and it has already begun pushing the Dell/SUSE combo as one of the least expensive Linux solutions available, we're thinking the relationship is pretty much altered and not in Red Hat's favor
It looks like that's about to change, though, as Novell subsidiary SUSE and Dell have inked a deal under which the hardware vendor will distribute and support SUSE Enterprise Server 9 on single- and dual-processor servers. The agreement brings an end to Red Hat's dominance as Dell's distro of choice, and it boosts Novell's fledgling effort as a bona fide Linux company.
For its part, Dell insists this doesn't change its relationship with Red Hat. To the extent that it's just given Red Hat's most credible competitor its imprimatur (which will mean something to enterprise developers debating which Linux variant to support) and it has already begun pushing the Dell/SUSE combo as one of the least expensive Linux solutions available, we're thinking the relationship is pretty much altered and not in Red Hat's favor.
We wonder if Red Hat's antennae weren't quivering prior to the SUSE/Dell deal: The company recently told reporters it expects overseas sales to comprise 50 percent of its revenue in 2005. That offers an undeniable bit of upside spin for a company that's just lost its lock on a partner instrumental to its success, but it also hints that Red Hat considered its hold on the U.S. market unassailable enough to turn its attention elsewhere.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the company deals with a market that suddenly has more of a choice.
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