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No one can watch everything all the time in the fast-paced IT sector. But it's pretty hard to do something - or not do it - and get it past the readers of El Reg.

Recently, a reader told us that server maker Hewlett-Packard was no longer offering support for the Debian distribution of Linux on its servers. And according to HP's website, that appeared to be the case. But as it turns out, HP is still supporting Debian (in a sense). What it doesn't offer is formal support for Ubuntu. And it has no plans to.

Back in August 2006, HP made a big stink about providing full support for the Debian variant of Linux on ProLiant rack and tower servers and its BladeSystem blade servers, giving Debian equally billing alongside Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux. By support, I don't mean testing and certification for compatibility between the server and the operating system, but installation and follow-on tech support. HP had been using Debian internally on its own clusters as well as in telecommunications and HPC customer engagements since 1995, the dawning of the commercial Linux age.

HP's support for Debian distributions on its servers came just a month after Canonical - arguably the dominant commercial Linux distro based on Debian code - launched its first server variant, Ubuntu 7.10. With Ubuntu growing in popularity, you might think that HP would be inclined - particularly in emerging markets in Africa and Asia - to enthusiastically support Ubuntu on the server as its preferred Debian.

HP will for a fee install any operating system you can provide media for if it doesn't have a reseller agreement of its own. So if you want to have any Debian release or Ubuntu in particular on your server, HP will do that for you for a fee. But that is not the same thing as offering full tech support through the same CarePack support contracts that Microsoft Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Novell SUSE Linux enjoy on x64 boxes.

An intrepid reader sent El Reg an email saying that Debian had disappeared from the official server operating system support matrix, and when I looked to verify this on the list, it was indeed gone. (I printed the page out, so I know I am not misremembering). And, lo and behold, just as I was writing this story and getting ready to call HP, not only did Debian Linux reappear on the support matrix, but so did Asianux for the Asian server space, Mandriva Linux for the French market, CentOS as an alternative to RHEL, and the Fedora and openSUSE development releases.

Now, don't get too excited. Debian support by HP when it comes to servers is a lot less enthusiastic than for RHEL or SLES, or even Oracle's clone of RHEL, Oracle Enterprise Linux. HP's Debian support consists of HP working with the Debian community when a bug arises to get a fix, which is slightly less tight loop than for RHEL, SLES, and OEL. If there are defects in the iron or in HP systems software relating to Debian, HP steps up and provides a fix. It seems odd that HP would support OEL but put Ubuntu in the same category as CentOS, Fedora, and openSUSE. But according to an email received by this reader from HP's support organization, you can forget about official Ubuntu support unless more server buyers make some noise. HP might do well to listen to its own end users:

"A number of us at HP run Ubuntu on our systems," said this HP support staffer in response to a question about Ubuntu support in an email exchange. "In fact, I'm writing this reply using an HP nc2400 running Ubuntu 9.04. However, HP doesn't plan to support Ubuntu on any of its products at this time. As the global enterprise and open source leader who supports Linux as a tier 1 operating system, HP is continually evaluating which products can be Linux certified or supported. We appreciate your business and value your partnership with us."

But not enough to cut a deal with Canonical and share some Ubuntu support contract money. Somebody has to go first among the tier one server makers and put the server horse in front of the Ubuntu cart. And it used to be that it was Compaq HP that often did. ®

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