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Red Hat aims higher with RHEL 5

With large enterprises in its sights, Red Hat talks platforms and partnerships

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CeBIT Red Hat today announced version 5 of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), its server operating system - but at the European launch in CeBIT the talk was not of all the technology inside, such as Xen virtualisation and JBoss middleware. Instead it was all about partnerships, packaging and support. In particular, Red Hat will now work with application developers, both to offer co-operative support and to recommend other open source software.

On the operating system side, some of the biggest changes are in how RHEL is packaged. The flagship is now RHEL 5 Advanced Platform, which is licenced for an unlimited number of virtual instances on an unlimited number of CPUs and sockets, so workloads can be moved around the data centre as needed. It also includes a clustered file system and logical volume management but costs the same as the more limited RHEL 4 Advanced Server release, the company said.

"Our vision is a complete end-to-end platform to support the complete application lifecycle, all using open source licences and open source business models," said Tim Yeaton, Red Hat's senior marketing veep.

"We will no longer have Enterprise Server, that will just be RHEL 5 - a commodity server with four virtual instances," he noted. He added though that the company is also introducing a client version, called RHEL 5 Desktop and also featuring virtualisation, plus three complete packages of software, services and training aimed at specific application needs:

The data centre package will include everything needed to implement a data centre or migrate one to open source, and will be available in large and small versions.

A high availability database package will allow users to build reliable database systems, based on the likes of Oracle, Sybase, DB2 and MySQL. Yeaton said it works by using standard functionality, such as database migration tools, to achieve the reliability of clustering without having to buy database clustering software.

The high performance computing platform will include tools to help users build computing grids and move spare power around, for example by re-tasking engineering workstations as compute servers for overnight jobs.

According to Yeaton, building Xen into RHEL, and also adding support for quad-core CPUs, has improved its ability to support enterprise workloads. For example, he highlighted the option to run multiple apps in individual VMs on a server, instead of running them all on a single instance of the operating system, where a virus affecting one would also affect all the others.

He pointed out too that each guest operating system can have different patch or revision levels, which can make it easier to consolidate many small servers onto one.

Red Hat has also updated its systems management tools to treat virtual and physical servers as one. "Customers find it lets them manage five times as many systems," Yeaton claimed.

Hat Trick

The other two pillars of Red Hat's new business strategy are co-operative support and a partner federation. Red Hat's co-operative resolution centre is aimed at clients with complex systems on 24-hour support. It will take the lead in resolving the problem and work with the other suppliers involved to stop them passing the buck, Yeaton said.

He added that the partner federation, called Red Hat Exchange, came about because customers asked for advice on what other open source software they should consider.

"It brings together leading ISVs to build solutions using RHEL, JBoss and so on. It enables our partners to build their business much faster than they would on their own," he said. Among the software suppliers already on board are SugarCRM, Zenoss, MySQL, Openfire and EnterpriseDB.

Yeaton claimed that Red Hat's reliance on subscription revenue encourages it to improve customer satisfaction, whereas a revenue stream based on licence sales encourages software developers to add unnecessary features to justify upgrades.

He added: "There are fundamental things about the open source model that cause us to behave in ways that are a better fit for our customers." ®

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