Oracles Red Hat Coup Détat

The company will provide full support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

To win acceptance in big companies, Linux requires enterprise-grade support, said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at Oracles annual OpenWorld conference here on Oct. 25. Therefore, Ellison said, his company will provide full support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

While Oracle will remove the Red Hat trademarks from the Linux it distributes, Ellison denied that this will in any way "fragment" the Linux market.

Oracle needs to provide enhanced support for Linux, Ellison said, because enterprise customers are holding back on implementing Linux with the Oracle Grid computing system due to serious support issues.

"The most serious issue: true enterprise support," said Ellison to a packed-to-the-rafters audience.

"If a customer has an issue with the Linux kernel and a vendor fixes the bug, quite often its not fixed in the version the customer is running. Its fixed in the future version thats about to come out. You have to upgrade to get the fix. That really is not acceptable to our large customers," said Ellison.

Oracles support for Red Hat, now under the aegis of Oracles Unbreakable Linux program, is not supposed to be a death knell for Red Hat, according to Ellison.

"Its very important not to fragment the Linux market," said Ellison. "Were not trying to differentiate ourselves from the Linux code. Every time Red Hat comes out with a release, well synchronize code. Were not trying to fragment."

Many industry watchers beg to differ. Red Hat is one of the largest companies—and possibly the most recognized—dedicated to open-source software and to supporting Linux.

Based in Raleigh, N.C., with about 50 offices around the world, Red Hat develops, deploys and manages Linux. While it doesnt own the Linux source code—the Linux community owns that—the company does earn its money from supporting Linux implementations.

Oracle, despite the claim of moving Linux forward in the enterprise community, is offering Red Hat support at less than half the price that Red Hat offers support.

For network support, updates and bug fixes—as well as free installable binaries—Oracle is charging $99 per system per year.

"We think that is a very, very attractive price," said Ellison. To bump up to basic support, equivalent to Red Hats "very best" support, according to Ellison, Oracle is charging $1,000 per month per user.

For premier support—a level of service that Red Hat doesnt even offer, again according to Ellison—Oracle, of Redmond Shores, Calif., is charging $1,200 per system per year, for two processors, and $2,000 for larger systems.

For that package users get two key features: back-porting and indemnification.

Oracles offer to back-port bug fixes means it will fix bugs in the version users are on, regardless of whether its the latest version. The indemnification clause means Oracle takes on any legal claims to which users may be vulnerable from companies like The SCO Group.

SCO has claimed Linux contains large amounts of its intellectual property. As a result, the company has been wrangling with the courts and IBM for years, demanding that users pay license fees. Red Hat in turn sued SCO, which turned around and sued two users—AutoZone and Daimler-Chrysler.

The kicker for Red Hat: Oracle is offering Linux support not only for its customers, but to anyone who wants it. "We have built up over the life of our Unbreakable Linux program a very, very large development team all over the world, so we have the capacity in-house to make [Red Hat Linux support] continuous, more reliable, more secure," said Ellison. "We have the largest software support in the world."

Oracle also has a team of engineers dedicated specifically to maintaining Linux. The groups work revolves around three specific areas: mainline development work with the Linux community, quality assurance and being a trusted member of the Linux community (to which Oracle donated its cluster file system).

Laurie Mann, vice president of engineering at Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., which maintains 150,000 servers based on the Linux operating system, joined Ellison on stage to back the 2.0 version of Oracles Unbreakable Linux program.

"Weve had our share of issues, but the support we get from Oracle is in the worst case what we get from Red Hat, and in the best case, its better," said Mann.

How much better is the question.

During the question-and-answer session of Ellisons keynote, an audience member asked the question that seemed to be on everyones mind: "What happens to Red Hat? Do you kill them unintentionally, or do you have a program to keep them alive?"

Ellisons response did not belie any fears for the health and safety of Red Hat. "Theyre going to compete very, very aggressively," he said. "This is capitalism, were competing. Were trying to offer a better product at a lower price. Since theyre a company and were a company, we expect them to improve their product and lower their price.

"Again," Ellison said, "we are on the side of pushing open standards. It is extremely important that open-standards software wins in the enterprise."