Hewlett-Packard Co. is offering integration services and support to Linux users through a deal with Red Hat Software Inc.
Under the agreement, announced today, the two companies will collaborate to provide support for customers who have Red Hat's Linux running on HP's Intel-based NetServer systems. HP will also port Linux to platforms based on the IA64 architecture, Intel's forthcoming 64-bit microprocessor design, when it comes out, HP officials said.
However, the deal does not mean that HP will start shipping the NetServer with the Linux operating system. Users still will have a choice of which OS they want on the server line, HP officials said.
HP NetServer LPr, designed for Internet service providers (ISPs) and corporate IT departments, will be the first to support Red Hat Linux version 5.2, with the entire HP NetServer product line supporting that flavor of Linux by the middle of this year, said Aurora Belarmino, worldwide market development manager for NetServer.
Support services will begin Feb. 2 for the U.S. and will expand to Europe, Asia-Pacific and Japan by the middle of this year.
The support aspect of the deal means that a customer who calls HP with a problem related to hardware will talk to an HP representative and will be "hot transferred" to Red Hat if the matter is determined to involve software.
"They have some of the strongest people in the Linux world on their support team," Belarmino said of Red Hat.
HP decided to forge the alliance, which thus far is exclusive, with Red Hat because that's what customers said they wanted, according to Hannah Lewis, an HP product manager responsible for operating systems on the NetServer line.
"At this point in time, Red Hat is really the leader in the Linux marketplace," she said, adding that if customers clamor for an alternative distributor for the software, then HP will explore other options. Right now, though, HP users have said they prefer to do business with Red Hat, a small software firm based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Overall, HP customers pushed the company to support Linux, which has grown by more than 200 percent in the past year from a 6.8 percent market share to a 17.2 percent share, said Belarmino, quoting figures from market researcher International Data Corp.
"I don't think that anyone could have predicted the rate at which it grew last year," she said.
But now that Linux has come on so strong, HP has taken notice. Linux has particularly caught on with ISPs and other customers who have World Wide Web-based applications, Belarmino said. That's why HP plans to start its Linux support with the NetServer aimed at that market.
The decision to team with Red Hat doesn't have any competitive implications for the HP-UX operating system, the HP officials said.
As for Red Hat, the deal with industry giant HP "just adds validity and support" to the company and its emphasis on Linux, said Red Hat spokeswoman Melissa London.
Asked if more such announcements could be in the offing, London laughed and said, "We sure hope so."