Oracle’s Red Hat push spurs mixed views

The database giant's plan to offer cut-price Red Hat support fazes some, but not others

Red Hat has come out fighting against Oracle’s plan to offer Red Hat support services for roughly half of what Red Hat itself charges.

It says it won’t cut its prices for Linux support contracts and questions Oracle’s motives.

At Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference, held in San Francisco at the end of last month, Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison said his company’s plan — an extension of Oracle’s five-year-old “Unbreakable Linux” programme — will deliver support at prices half of what Red Hat now charges. Prices are scheduled to start at US$99 (NZ$147) per system per year for bug fixing and patches and rise to US$1,199 for premium support, which includes indemnification.

In a response emblazoned “Unfakeable Linux” and posted on its website, Red Hat raises doubts about the value and compatibility of Oracle’s offering. Its view is in contrast to enthusiasm from the head of the lOUG (Independent Oracle Users Group), the largest Oracle user organisation.

“The IOUG is extremely excited by Oracle’s announcement for enterprise-class support for Linux,” says Ari Kaplan, president of the Chicago-based group. “This Oracle support for Linux encompasses the complete best-of-breed technology stack from the operating system to the database, Fusion Middleware, application server and applications.”

According to the IOUG, about half of its members run their databases on Linux.

Reaction from vendors that already provide support for Red Hat, many of whom also do significant business with Oracle, was muted.

“[IBM] thinks Oracle’s move is a validation of the space,” according to a spokesman.

IBM has supported customers running Red Hat and Novell’s SUSE Linux for five years with more than 7,000 full- and part-time Linux consultants, the spokesman says.

IBM will continue to work with Red Hat on providing patches to RHEL and will continue to price its support offerings “similar to Red Hat to avoid channel conflict, because we want customers to feel comfortable buying support from either one of us”, the spokesman says.

Hewlett-Packard, another leading provider of Linux support, says it “supports Oracle’s plans” and is “pursuing a number of options with Oracle to ensure our ability to extend the benefits of the offering to customers,” says an emailed response from an HP spokeswoman.

More direct rivals of Oracle were less enthusiastic. “Oracle is taking the work that Red Hat is doing and charging less for it in an attempt to bypass Red Hat as a vendor,” says Dave Dargo, chief technology officer at open source database provider Ingres.

In a blog entry titled “Bull*&#%!”, Dargo questions Oracle’s numbers, pointing out that any savings from switching from Red Hat to Oracle support for Linux pale in comparison to the licence fee for the Oracle database presumed to be running on top.

“[And] if Oracle is tremendously successful in taking Red Hat’s business then, ultimately, Red Hat won’t be around,” Dargo says. “Is this their plan, to get Red Hat’s valuation low enough to acquire them?”

Billy Marshall, chief executive of Linux appliance vendor rPath — and a former executive at Red Hat — says there are “many unanswered technical questions. Oracle claims they are going to follow the Red Hat maintenance stream, but they also claim they are going to issue patches to customers independent of Red Hat,” he says in his blog. “When Oracle patches a system for a customer, and Red Hat subsequently provides a patch that conflicts with the Oracle approach, how will the conflict be resolved?”

Winston Damarillo, head of open-source vendor Simula Lab, calls Oracle’s announcement “a pretty disruptive move” that has exposed the inherent vulnerability of the dual-licensing model used by Red Hat and many other open source companies such as Novell and MySQL.

That model, popularised by the General Public Licence (GPL), requires vendors to offer their products in full for free in the hope of enticing users, mostly businesses, to sign up for support and maintenance contracts. Damarillo, founder of Gluecode Software, an open source application server maker owned by IBM and which competes with application servers from both Red Hat and Oracle, says the GPL makes it easy for competitors such as Oracle to invade open source providers’ turf.

“With GPL, all of your IP [intellectual property] is taken away,” Damarillo says. He believes that Oracle’s move will encourage many open source vendors to move to a dual-distribution model, in which they offer a free core software product and charge for support and for proprietary add-ons like developer tools or extra security.

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