Enterprise Unix Roundup: Red Hat Awakens

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Aug 12, 2005


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After a year of head-bobs and little action, Red Hat's alarm clock jolted it awake at this week's LinuxWorld. Worried about things on your network going bad? RANCID records network device configurations, and tracks and alerts you to changes.

Michael Hall

Amy Newman

There's no denying that the past few years have seen a significant shift in the way people think about Red Hat. Comfortable in its dominance of the North American Linux market, disinterested in trying to push retail product, there's been an air of staleness and perhaps uncertainty coming out of the company.

It's a bad time for a market leader to be in anything less than top form, too. When Novell acquired SUSE in late 2003, the dynamics of the game in the United States changed abruptly. SUSE had struggled for years to get a toehold in North America, which Novell gave it. That toehold paid off in less than a year when Dell announced it would support SUSE on its 1- and 2-way servers, alongside Red Hat. There's no sign of a massive shift in market share yet, but the NetWare migration to Linux is still in the early days.

The company is also facing a newly revitalized Sun, which has Red Hat very much on its mind, along with a war chest large enough to endure some short-term pain if it means staunching the flow of Linux migrations.

Alongside those simple market factors is a sense of mistrust on the part of the the Linux advocate set about just where Red Hat's heart is. Its abrupt exit from the retail (and low-end desktop) market was fumbled, and there's been notable tension between the Fedora Project, Red Hat's effort to retain some sense of community cred, and the company's marketing department, which is trying to push stuff people actually pay for.

On the technical side, Red Hat has a few issues, too. Red Hat Network is a useful tool as far as it goes, but there's been a sense of coherence missing in Red Hat's offerings in terms of unified management tools. One thing that makes Novell a long-term threat with its SUSE-based NetWare offerings is the long-standing affection admins have for the smoothness of NetWare management and its top-to-bottom unification. ServerWatch's 2004 review of Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES noted that it offered very little in terms of improvements over other Linux variants, trading mostly on Red Hat's good name and its partnerships.

This week we got some sign that the company is aware it needs to make some noise and address its vulnerabilities, as it used LinuxWorld Conference & Expo as the rallying point for a number of announcements.
This time last year, in fact, most of Red Hat's public profile was consumed with its poor handling of the Fedora community and the abrupt departure of its CFO under a cloud of unwelcome regulatory interest. At the time, we said its dry patch was less "harmful" than "indifferent." Nevertheless, it was still a bad position to be in going into LinuxWorld. Novell and SUSE grabbed most of the attention, and its application server offering was greeted with yawns from the analysts.

This week we got some sign that the company is aware it needs to make some noise and address its vulnerabilities, as it used LinuxWorld Conference & Expo as the rallying point for a number of announcements.

On Tuesday, the company announced it's enhancing its Red Hat Network (RHN) services with the RHN Network Monitoring Module, an application monitoring and reporting tool. While RHN has traditionally been an enterprise-grade update management system, the Monitoring Module adds another layer of sophistication, providing a means to track server performance and notify admins when something goes wrong. That's a welcome level of management sophistication. Reporting tools are widely available in the Linux world, provided admins care to take the time to configure them. This offering is a welcome value add.

The company is also stepping outside its Linux sandbox on the services side. By the end of the month, RHN will support management of Solaris systems (or "legacy Solaris environments," to use the company's own suggestive verbiage), which will provide Red Hat with service revenue tied to something other than its own product line. Not to mention a way to chip away at Sun's customers.

On the business side, the company announced two partnerships designed to push (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) RHEL out across a variety of systems.

It will join HP to provide a blade server bundle that offers per-chassis (vs. per-CPU) licensing. Details are still sketchy, but The Register reports the bundle will involve "[eight] instances of RHEL 4, [eight] instances of Red Hat Management and Provisioning modules and the Red Hat Network Proxy server software under one subscription number."

Lest it be accused of neglecting the ever-pressing community angle, Red Hat was careful to place a Fedora-related announcement at the top of its corporate home page, announcing the GPL licensing of its Global File System.
Tuesday, the company announced another partnership with IBM. The companies will provide a 90-day evaluation bundle of RHEL and IBM Workplace Services Express version 2.5 (WSE). WSE is a collaboration bundle designed to provide SMBs with a portal, e-mail, "team rooms," and instant messaging.

Finally, on a more strategic level, the company announced its "Security in a Networked World" initiative, which will place an emphasis on demands for more comprehensive identity management, especially among federal agencies.

Lest it be accused of neglecting the ever-pressing community angle, Red Hat was careful to place a Fedora-related announcement at the top of its corporate home page, announcing the GPL licensing of its Global File System, a clustering filesystem it acquired when it purchased Sistina in late 2003. To the hobbyist set, the announcement will not be very interesting, but as paying tribute to the community goes, it sends a useful signal of ongoing affinity while keeping the focus squarely on enterprise computing.

None of these announcements mitigate the fact that Red Hat's dealing with a more competitive Linux and Unix market than it was two years ago, but they do go a ways in demonstrating the company is not asleep at the switch.

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