Sun in Red Hat's sights

Is the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux a nail in Solaris' coffin, or just a desperate attempt at getting sales?

Red Hat is continuing its drive towards the enterprise market with the release of Enterprise Linux version 4, but Microsoft Windows isn’t the target for the penguin OS peddler. Instead, it’s the UNIX cousin, Solaris from Sun Microsystems, which Red Hat says its new operating system will displace.

The key sales argument is savings: Gus Robertson, Red Hat’s general manager of Australia and New Zealand, claims a $5,000 RHEL 4 system provides equal performance to a $100,000 Sun Solaris setup with proprietary hardware and software.

RHEL 4 is sold on an annual subscription basis, which includes operating system updates and 24-by-7 support from Red Hat’s facility in Brisbane. Red Hat’s New Zealand distributor, Tech Pacific, had not finalised pricing for the new version last week, but Robertson says in Australia the subscription charge ranges from A$650 to $4,000, depending on the OS edition.

In 2003, Red Hat decided to shift from selling boxed copies and support for its Linux distribution, which was also available as a free download, to a subscription model for the commercial product. The free version was spun off into the community Fedora Project that both Red Hat and outside developers work on, and which serves as an advance testing bed for many of the technologies that appear in the Enterprise edition, says Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s executive vice president of engineering.

Asked about specific enhancements made in RHEL 4, Cormier says it now incorporates the Linux 2.6 kernel and allows the open source-derived operating system to match Solaris for scalability, reliability and performance on the server side. There are 32- and 64-bit versions of RHEL 4; apart from 32-bit x86 processors the OS runs on 64-bit CPUs from AMD, Intel and IBM.

The Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) mechanisms and technologies developed by the US National Security Agency have also found its way into RHEL 4.

Cormier says that with version 4, Red Hat can now offer a fully-fledged business desktop as well, with full multimedia support, the Firefox open source web browser and Open Office productivity suite.

While unwilling to provide any exact customer figures, Robertson says the company is enjoying a great deal of success in the financial and telco markets. Vodafone in New Zealand is a large Red Hat Linux customer, he says.

The aggressive marketing statements from Red Hat about “displacing the Solaris operating system” are met with derision by Sun’s general manager in New Zealand, Peter Idoine.

Dismissing the marketing talk, Idoine says “Red Hat is desperate for some sales”, and points out that Solaris 10 runs on x86 commodity hardware from Intel and AMD. Sun has seen some 400,000 downloads of Solaris since it was released late last year, says Idoine, who is bullish about the performance enhancements and feature additions such as a large-capacity 128-bit file system, Dynamic Tracing of program behaviour and the Linux Application Environment to run Linux Standards Base (LSB) compliant binaries.

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Tags unixLinuxsunsolarisRed Hat

More about AMDFedoraIBM AustraliaIntelLinuxLSBMicrosoftNational Security AgencyRed HatSun MicrosystemsTech PacificVodafone

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