Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the Trickle-Up Effect

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Nov 16, 2010


More on Red Hat Enterprise Linux

The announcement of a royal wedding is a cause for excitement among loyal subjects, but it's also an opportunity for assorted tea-towel vendors, commemorative plate makers and many other people to make a great deal of money off the back of it.

It's not unusual for a software release to trigger a hardware refresh. With the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, many OEMs are counting on it.

And so it is with enterprise server operating systems. Last week's release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6.0 generated much excitement from its loyal customers. Many of Red Hat's partners are hoping the release will provide them with an opportunity to make a great deal of money off the back of it, too. Although the RHEL 6.0 server OS includes numerous significant new features -- a new hybrid 2.6.32 kernel; support for more cores and memory; better reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) capabilities; the ext4 file system by default; and so more -- it was hard to discern that from the clamor of Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) hardware partners preparing to make money by selling more of their lovely server boxes and associated services.

HP for one certainly sees RHEL 6.0 as an opportunity to boost its sales, both to existing customers and to "UNIX defectors" -- companies looking to ditch their existing UNIX setups and move to open source software. Most of those are likely to be disgruntled ex-Sun customers, said Scott Farrand, HP's VP Infrastructure Severs and Software. "There is definitely a march from UNIX to Linux, and a preference to use x86-based hardware. Given that, and the 'situation' at Sun/Oracle, most are coming from Solaris/SPARC," he said.

HP (NYSE: HPQ), naturally, is ready to welcome Oracle's Solaris customers into its corporate fold, and it has set up its market stall with UNIX-to-Linux migration services, programs that help convert the UNIX source code of proprietary programs to Linux, and of course its Proliant server range on which to run all of this software. "In the Linux world people are used to buying hardware, system code and services from one system provider. They want one throat to choke," Farrand explained. He said defectors will get the benefit of HP's Proliant server management tools for Linux, including the iLO3 coprocessor (which can be used to help reduce energy consumption by 20W-30W per server), Virtual Connect fast failover, HP's own YUM repository of server utilities and device drivers, the SmartStart scripting toolkit, HP's Insight Control for Linux management tool, and cloud-related tools like HP's Cloud Maps which can be used to specify the cpu requirements, network connections and other variables needed for a given workload to be rolled out in a private cloud on HP hardware. (Of course Solaris users could just migrate to Oracle Enterprise Linux, but Farrand doesn't see that as much of a risk: "We are not seeing Oracle showing up as a Linux competitor," he added.)

The situation is pretty odd, when you think about it. One one hand, HP is trying to tempt Sun/Oracle's UNIX customers to abandon UNIX and defect to Linux, while on the other hand it extols the benefits of its own HP-UX UNIX to its existing UNIX customers. You can't help thinking that if HP's Red Hat 6.0-based Proliant offerings are really as good as it says they are, then it's going to be increasingly hard for HP to keep a straight face while selling expensive HP-UX solutions to its UNIX customers.

It seems HP wants the best of both worlds -- not unlike a Royal Wedding tea-towel vendor who tries to make an additional buck or two by selling "Down with the monarchy" buttons on the side.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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