Volume 3, Number 30 -- August 15, 2006

HP Gives Debian Linux Equal Billing to Red Hat and SUSE

Published: August 15, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

The semi-annual LinuxWorld trade show got underway yesterday, this time in San Francisco, and PC and server maker Hewlett-Packard is using the event to formally launch its full support of the Debian variant of Linux on its ProLiant tower and rack servers as well as on its BladeSystem blade servers. HP also launched a thin client, the t5725, which uses Debian and gives buyers the ability to add programs to it and create what amounts to a desktop appliance.

In addition to talking up the Debian support, HP wants to brag a little bit about its prowess in the Linux market, most of which came to HP thanks to Compaq's early and enthusiastic support of Linux (at least compared to its rivals in the server racket) on its mainstream ProLiant X86 servers eight years ago. According to Jeffrey Wade, worldwide marketing manager for HP's open source and Linux organization, HP has had the number one revenue and unit shipment position in the global Linux server market since 1998, based on data from IDC. If you add HP and Compaq's numbers together from that time, HP has booked just under $6.2 billion in cumulative Linux server sales and shipped 1.5 million boxes supporting Linux--not counting, of course, the Linux boxes it doesn't know about because companies have shifted operating systems. Wade says that over the same time period, that's 65 percent more servers and 56 percent more Linux-related server revenue than IBM, which holds the number two position in the market. That is also 73 percent more revenue than Dell has in Linux servers, but presumably Dell has closed the gap somewhat in Linux shipments compared to HP or else the company would have bragged about how big the gap is there, too--which it didn't.

For years, HP has been offering its own front-line support--meaning not just certification and testing, but real installation and usage technical support for Linuxes from Red Hat and Novell on a worldwide basis, and in the Asia/Pacific region, it supports the Asianux variants from Miracle Linux (in Japan), Red Flag Linux (in China), and Haansoft (in Korea). Wade says that in HP's fiscal 2005 ended last October, the company had over 30,000 Linux subscribers who generated $19 million in support revenues for HP. That's about half the rate of Novell's own support business (and some of that dough does, in fact, pass on to Novell.) That HP Linux support business is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 37 percent. And since fiscal 2003, HP's sales for Linux training have been growing at a rate of 35 percent compounded annually (HP did not say how much money is involved, however).

The way HP and other server makers work out their deals with the commercial Linux distributors is generally the same. The server maker agrees to peddle a Linux distro on a box, collects the money, and offers the first couple of levels of tech support on the Linux. HP has a total of 6,500 trained Linux experts to cope with support calls and do Linux integration services. If something goes wacky with the Linux on an HP box that HP can't figure out, then the support call escalates back to Red Hat, Novell, Red Flag, Miracle, or Haansoft. Apparently, this doesn't happen very often. In 2005, HP had over 48,000 support calls from its Linux support customers. Of those 36,000, or about 75 percent, were resolved by HP's level 1 team. Another 11,100 calls went to level 2 at HP support and were resolved at that level, representing 23 percent of all calls. HP's engineers resolved another 720 calls at level 2.5 and level 3, which was another 1.5 percent of all Linux support calls from its own support customers. For the whole year, only 180 calls, or less than a half percent of the total, escalated back to the Linux distributor (mostly Red Hat and Novell). That is an astonishingly small number for full escalation, and much less than many customers and competitors probably expected. To get this Linux support, by the way, you pay for a CarePack support contract, which can also be used for NetWare, Windows, or SCO Unix support.

That internal Linux support organization is one reason why HP feels pretty confident it can add Debian to the mix. Another is that HP itself has deep experience using Debian. According to Wade, HP has been using Debian since 1995, incorporating it into system integration deals HP had for telecommunication systems and supercomputer clusters. With Debian support, if you install Debian during the warranty period for a ProLiant or BladeCenter machine, HP will take calls for installations just by virtue of the fact that you have acquired one of these servers. After installation, you buy a CarePack support contract (which costs the same regardless of the platform) to get tech support on the software stack. Starting this week, HP will officially support the Debian 3.1 "Sarge" release, which was announced last June. The future Debian 4.0 "Etch" release will also be supported at some point, too; this release is expected in December or so. HP has not said when it will support Debian--and particularly the Ubuntu variant of Debian--on its PCs and laptops, but if Ubuntu takes off as many expect it to, then you can expect Ubuntu to make it onto PCs alongside Windows and Red Hat and Novell Linuxes. With over 15,000 applications and eleven chip architectures supported, Debian is due, to put it bluntly.

In the meantime, if you want Linux on your desktop, HP could suggest a thin client approach using the new t5725 thin client. HP has been selling Windows and Linux thin clients for years, but this is the first one to use Debian. The t5725 has Geode NX 1500 processor from AMD, which runs at 1 GHz, plus 256 MB of main memory and 512 MB of flash memory. That flash can store various open source applications, such as OpenOffice for office automation or one of a number of Debian-based antivirus programs. The t5725 comes with the Firefox browser installed on it, plus access to remote server applications through the Citrix Systems ICA or the open source rdesktop clone of Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol. The t5725 can support multiple screens as an option, and includes the usual parallel and serial ports as well as six USB 2.0 ports. The device also has a PCI slot for optional peripherals. For administrators, the t5725 can lock out user access to the BIOS, which is then managed remotely by admins through software called the HP Connection Administrator. It can also be managed through Altiris Deployment Solution, a system management tool from the company of that name. The base t5725 costs $450.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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