Oracle takes feather out of Red Hat’s cap

Vendor will sell support, clone of Red Hat Linux

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By  Published  November 3, 2006

Oracle’s decision to sell support to Red Hat Linux customers and make its own ‘clone’ version of the open source operating system could lead to a damaging split in the OS, industry analysts and Red Hat executives warned last month.

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison rounded off last month’s annual user conference by announcing that Oracle will offer bug fixes and support for Red Hat’s Linux variant at a lower cost than Red Hat’s itself.

Red Hat Linux customers would be able to “very easily switch from Red Hat support to Oracle support,” Ellison told conference delegates during his keynote speech.

The move was not entirely unexpected. In an exclusive interview with IT Weekly in July, Ellison had said that his firm was looking at such a move (see IT Weekly 8-14 July 2006).

He claimed then that the firm was looking at offering “enterprise- class support” for Red Hat Linux that would be better and cost less than Red Hat’s own.

Ellison said that Oracle’s version will be identical to that of Red Hat. The Oracle version will be badged under the “Unbreakable Linux” brand, the company said.

Red Hat shares fell 16% following the announcement, on fears that the move would see it lose customers.

Red Hat has responded with a campaign badged “Unfakeable Linux”, in which it claimed that Oracle’s move will indeed lead to a “fork” in the Linux OS — where the Oracle version and Red Hat’s own version could end up not synchronised. This could lead to compatibility problems for customers who want to run applications across more than one Linux distribution, Red Hat warns on its website.

Industry analysts have also warned of the dangers of a Linux fork, especially as Oracle is promising to provide patch support for older versions of the OS — something which Red Hat does not currently do.

While acknowledging the potential danger of creating a fork in the OS, Gartner said that the move could still benefit Red Hat customers and has recommended that they undertake compatibility testing of the software.

The move will certainly impact on Red Hat pricing, Gartner believes, advising Red Hat customers to seek large discounts — up to 70% in some cases, on their support contracts, even if they are happy with Red Hat’s quality of support.

“Oracle’s entry into the Linux support market will inevitably slow Red Hat’s momentum and raises doubts about its long-term viability,” Gartner warned in an online advisory, adding the move was a “wake-up call” for the whole open source industry.

Gavin Clarke, vice president of support services, Oracle EMEA, said that Middle East customers will be able to get access to the Red Hat support as Oracle’s support operations have a global structure. Resources allocated to Linux support would depend on customer uptake, he claimed.

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