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With 7,000 companies paying for support contracts for Oracle's Enterprise Linux clone, the software giant is, whether anyone likes it or not, a player in the Linux racket. And Oracle just made its competitive position in the Linux space a lot more interesting with the acquisition of a startup called Ksplice.

Ksplice is short for kernel splicing, and it was created by Jeff Arnold, Tim Abbott, Waseem Daher, and Anders Kaseorg, who were students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It allows for hot patching of security updates for the Linux kernel without having to reboot. The Ksplice tool won a $100,000 entrepreneurial prize from MIT in 2009.

The company was incorporated in 2010, and Ksplice tried to make money selling bootless security patching for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its CentOS clones and its Fedora development release precursors, as well as for Debian and Canonical's derived Ubuntu Linux. CloudLinux and Scientific Linux were also supported, as was the variants of Ubuntu for Amazon's EC2 cloud. You can read a paper written by Arnold, who was CEO at Ksplice, that explains how the startup works here (PDF).

The terms of the acquisition of Ksplice were not disclosed. Clearly, the business of selling hot patching services for Linux distros was a bit more challenging than the four MIT students bargained for.

Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president of Oracle Linux and Virtualization, put out a statement saying that Oracle intended to weave Ksplice Uptrack into its Oracle Linux Premier Support service and that it would specifically use it with its own Unbreakable Linux kernel. That kernel is a fork of Red Hat's RHEL kernel, and Coekaerts added that Oracle does not intend to support RHEL or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, the two other major commercial releases of Linux; he didn't say anything about Ubuntu.

While Ksplice hot patching will be available with Oracle's Premier Support service for its own Linux kernel, if you interpret the convoluted statement from Oracle, it looks like those with Oracle Linux Basic Support or Network Support won't get the Ksplice feature as part of their service contract

Ksplice Uptrack is just another bullet in the marketing gun that Oracle has been shooting at Red Hat for three years. Oracle Linux Premier Support costs $2,299 per year on a four-socket x64 server, while a RHEL Premium support contract costs $6,498 for a one-year term.

Ksplice Uptrack had 700 customers and had done over 2 million updates on over 100,000 servers in its relatively short life.

The Ksplice code was created and distributed under the GPL v2 and other open source licenses, so it will be interesting to see if any of the commercial Linux distros fork Ksplice and add it to their own Linux support services. The repositories that Ksplice pointed to prior to the Oracle acquisition point to nullspace at the moment, but there is a mirror of the code (tar-gz) that is still active for the 0.9.9 release of the Ksplice tool. ®

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