Red Hat Integrates and Simplifies with RHEL 5
Published: March 20, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
As a provider of open source operating systems, middleware, and development tools, Red Hat talks a lot about how the open source movement is changing the very nature of enterprise computing. With Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, the company is offering an integrated set of systems software that includes integrated server virtualization, clustering, and sophisticated file systems--more or less for the same price that it charged for the prior release, RHEL 4, minus many of those features.
Like other operating system and platform providers, Red Hat has to compete on both features and the price for support, and when the pieces of software that are assembled into a product come from 1,200 open source projects, you can't exactly charge a huge premium for product support or else some other company can sneak in and undercut you on price. At least that's the theory. Novell charges a very low price for its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 software, but it has nowhere near the market share of Red Hat in the Linux space. And in the case of Oracle with its Unbreakable Linux offering, even taking the Red Hat distribution, making some splash screen changes and cutting support prices in half has not--at least so far--given Red Hat much to worry about.
What Red Hat understands--and what some parts of the IBM behemoth have understood for nearly three decades and what Microsoft figured out a decade ago--is that IT shops like integrated stacks of software and they like having a single place to get support. Maybe the Global 2,000 can put together myriad different kinds of systems and support everything under the sun--funny how it is usually banks, insurance companies, and other financial services organizations who have ready access to our cash and don't mind jacking up fees so they can play in the data center--but for the rest of the companies of the world, fewer platforms is the way to go, and so is having fewer vendors.
RHEL 5 is the culmination of four years of development, and is the realization of the company's goal to provide a stack of software that can, as Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering at Red Hat put it at the RHEL 5 launch in San Francisco last Wednesday, span the entire software lifecycle, from development to data center. (Red Hat is, to be fair, still working out the kinks with JBoss tools and its newly taken over Ajax and Eclipse tools from Exadel, but over time, the company will get its development products sorted.)
By integrating server virtualization--through the Xen hypervisor that was created by XenSource--and mixing in its own Cluster Suite for high availability and its Global File System to virtualize storage on SANs and iSCSI arrays, RHEL 5 has a lot of what customers need to deploy infrastructure applications. And eventually, Red Hat will get a RHEL 5 application stack out the door with its JBoss middleware and development tools, plus support for open source databases, and complete the stack as it has promised it would.
And, because you can never rest in the software stack, Red Hat will go further up, partnering with suppliers of open source application software and other databases and middleware to create what it calls the Red Hat Exchange. Red Hat will sell popular CRM, ERP, data warehousing, and other open source applications and do a revenue share with the commercial companies behind those projects. The company will also launch bundled stacks of software aimed at clustered databases, high performance computing clusters, and data center makeovers, all pretested and preconfigured, and with discounts, too.
But for today, what most people are interested in looking at is the RHEL 5 operating system, and with server virtualization being a hot topic, this is the feature that most people want to know about. Red Hat pushed out the delivery of RHEL 5 to integrate Xen into the operating system, and because Xen was changing so fast last year, Red Hat took more time and let Xen settle down a bit and for new processors to get into the market before launching RHEL 5. It was the perfect excuse to take more time to polish other parts of the system, and being so far ahead of Novell in terms of sales and market share, the fact that Novell beat it to market by a little more than seven months with integrated Xen support was not going to have much impact on Red Hat's sales.
Pricing support for virtualized operating system instances is no less problematic for open source software than it is for closed source programs that have paid-for licenses and additional support costs. When Novell launched SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 last July, it charged $349 for a basic support contract on any sized machine, from 1 to 64 processor sockets, and it allowed an unlimited number of virtualized SLES 10 instances on that machine. This was a very generous offer.
Red Hat is not being as generous, but nearly so. RHEL 5 comes in two flavors. The base server, which is analogous to RHEL 4 AS, can run on a machine with up to two processor sockets and it can support a maximum of four Xen virtual machine instances. For basic support, the RHEL 5 base server costs $349, which includes one year of Web support with two-day response time. For $799, the base server support package moves up to 12x5 business hour support via a human being on the phone (plus Web support if you want it), and $1,299 gets you 24x7 telephone support, plus Web, too.
The base server is aimed at basic infrastructure jobs, and is not intended for large machines with heavily virtualized environments. That's where the RHEL 5 Advanced Platform comes in. This operating system, which is roughly analogous to RHEL 4 ES, includes Cluster Suite and GFS (which were separately priced products in RHEL 4), and has an unlimited number of Xen virtual machines implicit in its support contract for any machine that a license is tied to. A server can have any number of sockets, and Red Hat will support as many processor sockets, cores, and threads that any particular server architecture can deliver. (See the separate feeds and speeds article for more on that.) The standard support subscription for RHEL 5 Advanced Platform costs $1,499, and it includes 12x5 telephone as well as Web support, and the premium support subscription costs $2,499 and upgrades support to 24x7.
When you consider the Xen support and the addition of Cluster Suite and GFS, to a certain way of thinking that is generous, the Linux inside RHEL 5 costs less than RHEL 4. If you don't want to be generous, you can say that Cluster Suite and GFS were not money makers for Red Hat anyway, and the company is merely giving them away.
In any event, both the RHEL 5 base server and the Advanced Platform are available on X86, X64, Itanium, and Power servers, and the base server is available on IBM mainframes. Pricing for the mainframe support contract remains the same at $15,000 per mainframe core for standard support and $18,000 per core for premium support.
Red Hat might have been tempted to try to charge for virtual instances, or cores or use some other manner to get appropriate value for the support it is delivering on virtualized Linux platforms. "We did not want to make customers count cores," explained Cormier. "The idea is to make this simple."
The other idea, and one that has driven Red Hat's acquisitions and partnerships over the past few years, is to get a much bigger piece of the software action with a larger and integrated stack. "The value that used to come from four or five different software vendors now comes from one vendor, removing tens of thousands of dollars of cost per server," said Cormier. "In the proprietary Unix days, this would have cost an enormous amount of money."
Truth be told, it still does, and it does on Windows platforms as well as on mainframes, Unix boxes, and OS/400-i5/OS servers, too.
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OpenVZ Project Gets Migration Feature, Supports Fedora Core 5
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