Red Hat goes commercial on Amazon's cloud

RHEL 5.5 leaps from server to sky

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

For the past several years, commercial Linux distributor Red Hat has been dabbling in public cloud computing, putting out beta releases of its Enterprise Linux on Amazon's EC2 compute utility. The Fedora community also put its eponymous Linux development releases out there. But if you wanted to run real RHEL on EC2 and get handholding for it, forget it.

Starting Tuesday, with the recently announced Enterprise Linux 5.5, customers who have licenses to the premium edition support for RHEL or RHEL Advanced Platform can deactivate those licenses on their physical servers running in their data centers and reactivate them on Amazon's EC2 cloud. Companies buying new premium contracts, which provides 24x7 handholding from Red Hat, will be able to use the Cloud Access feature of RHEL 5.5 to turn those licenses on within EC2 as well.

According to Mike Ferris, director of product strategy for Red Hat's cloud solutions, customers who have basic or standard support contracts (which provide 9x5 business day support) will not be able to activate their licenses on EC2.

This will no doubt seem a bit unfair to many RHEL shops, considering that, in theory, supporting RHEL on Amazon's virtualized infrastructure should be easier rather than harder than on the multitudes of servers and peripherals that RHEL has to support inside the data center. A RHEL basic support contract, which is the bare bones, costs $349 per year, while a standard support contract costs $799. A RHEL premium support contract costs $1,299 per year, while RHEL Advanced Platform costs $2,499. The difference between Advanced Platform and the other RHEL versions when it comes to virtualization is this: a normal RHEL license allows you to fire up four virtual machines running RHEL (using the embedded KVM or Xen hypervisor) per physical server, while Advanced Platform allows you to spawn as many as you want or can on a given piece of hardware.

So if you do the math, it is really silly to move Advanced Platform licenses to Amazon's EC2, since RHEL licenses will transfer from physical server to one virtual EC2 image on a one-to-one basis. Given how non-Advanced Platform licenses allowed up to four VMs running that RHEL license, you would think each single RHEL premium license would spawn to as many as four EC2 images, but that is not the way it works.

Here's another gotcha: You have to have 25 or more premium support subscriptions, for either RHEL or RHEL Advanced Platform, before you can activate RHEL 5.5 instances on EC2. So if you thought you could do this in onesies and twosies and on the cheap - nope.

While the news is good that at least now a fully support RHEL option is available on EC2 if you have a desire to cloudburst out to EC2 for some of your infrastructure, Red Hat is charging a pretty hefty premium for a virtualized instance of RHEL on EC2 compared to what you can get away with inside your own data center. And it is not aiming at SMBs who might need and want virtualized Linux running on a utility more than big enterprises. (If I didn't know any better, I would say that IBM had already bought Red Hat to come up with this pricing scheme).

As rival Canonical has been doing for years with its Ubuntu Server Edition, Red Hat will now put new versions and releases of RHEL out on EC2 concurrent with licenses for on-premises hardware. Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions will be available as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) and there is a update mechanism that works like the Red Hat Network updating service for on-premise machines to keep the EC2 images up to date but which is not based on RHN, according to Ferris. You can purchase licenses from Red Hat or its channel partners to deploy them on EC2.

As for earlier RHEL releases, Ferris said there is no way that Red Hat will deploy RHEL 4 on EC2 with official support, but depending on customer demand, it is possible that support for earlier RHEL 5 releases could find their way onto Amazon's cloud. While Red Hat is not making any announcements today, it is also likely that other cloud providers - including IBM, NTT, and other members of Red Hat's Premier Certified Cloud Provider program - will soon host RHEL 5.5 on their own utilities. ®

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