RHEL 5: How's It Going?
Published: May 15, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Commercial Linux distributor Red Hat hosted its eponymous customer and partner summit last week, and among the many announcements that the company made, including raising the curtain a little on its desktop strategy, partnering with IBM for Linux support on mainframes (more on that in next week's issue), and launching the Red Hat Exchange, the company's executives were obviously keen on talking about Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which was launched two months ago.
Tim Yeaton, senior vice president of worldwide marketing and general manager of Red Hat's Products Division, didn't provide specifics about how many RHEL 5 licenses that the company has distributed in the past 60 days, but he did give some anecdotal evidence about how RHEL 5 is being accepted.
Red Hat, by making money on support contracts rather than on sales of software licenses, doesn't actually get paid when customers upgrade from RHEL 3 or RHEL 4 to RHEL 5. So its business model doesn't focus on moving customers according to its own schedule and financial need. The company does, however, want to add features that make RHEL more useful and wants the features and better integration with other software for its RHEL product to attract new customers, who certainly do give Red Hat fresh money when they buy a support contract.
In any event, Yeaton said that Red Hat hosted its U.S. customer council advisory board meeting in San Diego just prior to the Red Hat Summit last week, and he did an informal poll of the customers in the room and said that about 80 percent of them raised their hands and said they were well into evaluating RHEL 5. He also said that the sessions at the summit relating to server virtualization were standing room only. "There is just an extraordinary level of interest in virtualization," Yeaton said.
As for what is driving interest in RHEL 5, Yeaton echoed the items that he and other Red Hat execs have been touting for more than a year: integrated Xen server virtualization; tight integration of clustering, a global file system, and a middleware stack; and full support for 64-bit applications. Yeaton said that for certain customers, such as those supporting large databases and ERP applications, 64-bit support will drive adoption of RHEL 5. "But the main driver for RHEL 5 that is motivating customers is that they want more flexible infrastructure," said Yeaton.
The other thing that will eventually drive RHEL 5 adoption is the certification of enterprise-class applications. Yeaton said that nearly 3,000 applications--and we are not talking about the pieces of software distributed with RHEL, but databases, middleware, and applications from commercial and open source software distributors--have been certified on RHEL 3 and RHEL 4, with most of them having been certified on RHEL 4 by now. (But, alas, not all.) Vendors seem to be inclined to get RHEL 5 certification a lot more than they have on prior RHEL releases. At the same point in time against RHEL 4 (after two months on the market), the rate of certification for applications on RHEL 5 is six times higher.
Interestingly, Red Hat is asking for customers to test against a Red Hat instance on a Xen partition to get certified, which is a little bit more complex, too. But the company has provided methodologies that ensure that if code runs on virtualized Red Hat instance on a Xen partition, then it will work on a physical server running just Red Hat as the operating system on the box with no hypervisor. "This significantly faster certification rate, even though we have raised the bar," Yeaton said.
He did not offer any estimates as to when RHEL 5 will have 3,000 applications certified upon it. It takes the Unix vendors several years to get 3,000 to 4,000 applications certified on a new Unix release--this holds true for Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, or IBM.
The other question is: Can RHEL 5 have 8,000 or 10,000 applications certified on it? That would give Red Hat a significant application advantage compared to any Unix, but would put it far behind Microsoft's Windows platform.
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