Red Hat has launched Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5). As ever, the server OS incorporates many of the features previewed in Fedora, the community version of the open source OS but Red Hat is also changing both the open source operating system's packaging and the way it sells support.
Red Hat's marketing VP Tim Yeaton talked at the launch about virtualisation using Xen technology, one of RHEL5's key technical features, but spoke for longer about RHEL's new packaging.
RHEL will now be sold in two versions. The Advanced Platform will feature unlimited usage and instances, whether running on virtual or physical machines, where previously Red Hat sold product subscriptions based on sockets. The price will be the same as the current AS version, and is aimed at enterprises. RH's entry-level OS product, to be known simply as RHEL5, will be the same price as same price as ES is today and includes four virtualised instances.
RHEL5 AS includes an enterprise desktop and a number of new features including new hardware support - such as quad-core CPUs - and what the company called improved interoperability with both Microsoft Windows and with Unix.
Benefits according to Yeaton include lower costs because of RHEL5's in-built virtualisation technology, which can help save on power, cooling, and hardware capital costs, which then result in lower admin costs.
"When it comes to virtualisation, we are focused on Xen," said Yeaton. "We also created Libvirt, an abstraction layer that helps application developers to write applications that won't be broken by new virtualisation technologies."
With its change of packaging, the company hopes that RHEL5 AS will be able to address not just its traditional heartland of Web servers and the like, but can move deeper into the data centre with more mission-critical applications, including clustering and high-performance computing.
Red Hat has also built three off-the-shelf solutions from the RHEL platform:
1. Data centre, which Yeaton described as a pre-built solution for managing a data centre. It includes bundled software for managing storage, identity, and high availability, plus consulting and training services. Two versions are available, for both large and smaller data centres.
2. Database availability -- a cluster package -- which is designed to bring high availability to database applications and includes added support and training. The company said that a $35,000 investment in the package could save $210,000 compared to buying the equivalent from arch-rival Oracle.
3. Red Hat's high-performance computing package is aimed at engineers and scientific applications.
Changes in support
Buttressing this is a shift in Red Hat's support offering. Instead of supporting only RHEL, from now on enterprise customers will be able to buy into what it calls its co-operative resolution centre. This means that RH assumes total responsibility for support on a particular platform to avoid the finger-pointing that frequently accompanies complex technical problems.
"We will now fix a customer problem regardless of which vendor is the root cause," said Yeaton. "We'll call the other vendors to help deliver a solution. It helps solve the problem where, for example, you're running Oracle and Veritas on RHEL and a the problem arises to do with patch levels and application interaction. We'll bake it into our larger scale service package, mainly for big enterprises. Thousands will want to take advantage of this."
RH also said it wanted to bring open source principles to its support organisation. "This means Red Hat will guide customers towards other open source applications -- people you can trust," said Yeaton.
"Called Red Hat Exchange, it's about working with partners to help build more robust solutions. We'll build a destination for customers to come to find open source solutions, and have them pre-built, with only one point of contact. Our partners can then leverage our distribution network and our brand."
ISVs already signed up include SugarCRM, OpenFire Zimbra, Compere, Alfresco, Pentaho, MySQL and EnterpriseDB.
The open source model also means keeping it simple, said Yeaton. "We want to keep our support model simple, including the SLA," he said. "We have had only nine pages in our SLA up till today, and now it's only one page. One competitor uses 36."
Yeaton said that the company was considering moving towards what VMware calls virtual appliances -- an OS and an application packaged inside a portable virtual machine. He also said the company has extended the Red Hat Network -- its support channel -- to support virtualised environments.
"We're working with independent software vendors to help them develop these," said Yeaton. "You'll see the first ones in the second quarter of 2007. And they'll have all the attributes of peer review etc that you get with open source software."
Yeaton also promised that RHEL's virtualisation "will support other guest OSes over time. We think the first wave of customers will be those who want to run multiple versions of RHEL -- encapsulating and consolidating. But we are optimising to ensure that other guest OSes will run."
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