Oracle to push Red Hat from support chair

Company will offer full support for Red Hat's Linux distribution, even to non-Oracle customers

While it wasn't quite the Linux announcement that had been expected, Oracle Corp.'s latest move will definitely see the company butt heads with the leading distributor of the open-source operating system Red Hat Inc.

Oracle will offer "full support" for Red Hat's Linux distribution to both Oracle and non-Oracle customers, Larry Ellison, chief executive officer of Oracle Corp., said Wednesday. He was giving the closing keynote at his company's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

Ellison was widely expected to announce an Oracle-branded version of Linux. He kicked off the rumor mill about such a development back in April when he revealed Oracle had weighed up the benefits of acquiring either of the leading Linux distribution players, Red Hat or Novell Inc.

One of the key issues slowing the adoption of Linux is the lack of "true enterprise support," Ellison said. If a customer has a problem with the Linux kernel, often the bug is fixed by distributors in future versions of the operating system, not the current release the customer is deploying. In addition, Linux support has tended to be costly and some users would welcome IT vendors indemnifying against any potential lawsuits.

"We'd like to fix [all] that," Ellison said, unveiling the second iteration of Oracle's Unbreakable Linux support offering. His speech included a logo of the Linux symbol Tux the penguin outfitted with armor and some real penguins waddled onstage at one point.

Pricing for Oracle support for Red Hat Linux will start from US$99 per system per year for bug fixing and patches rising to $1,199 for premium support, which includes indemnification.

Ellison denied that Oracle's out to kill Red Hat. "This is capitalism; we're competing," he said. "We're trying to offer a better product at a better price. Our goal is to make all versions of Linux better." He emphasized that Oracle also doesn't intend to further fragment the Linux market. "We're not trying to differentiate from Red Hat code," Ellison said. "We're going to stay synchronized with the Red Hat version [of Linux]."

Oracle will make all the bug fixes it comes up with freely available to all Linux distributors as well, he said.

Ellison showed video clips of support from the heads of its partners including Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp. In his clip, Michael Dell, the chairman of Dell Inc., welcomed the announcement and said his company will use Oracle for its Linux support.

Oracle first launched Unbreakable Linux support in 2002 as a way to convince customers to use Oracle database grids running on the open-source operating system. Since that time, Oracle has built up its internal support for the OS.

Laurie Mann, vice president of engineering at Yahoo Inc., said his company has support contracts with both Red Hat and Oracle for Linux. "We've found support from Oracle at worse case equivalent to what we get from Red Hat and in best case, better than Red Hat," he said. With Red Hat, "Two calls before, support was talking to someone about embedded Linux on a toaster," Mann added. "Instead, we can call Uncle Larry, and Uncle Larry, it's your problem to fix."

Oracle and Red Hat have appeared on something of a collision course this year. Oracle had been widely expected to buy open-source middleware vendor JBoss, but instead Red Hat acquired the company for US$350 million. With that move, Red Hat entered the middleware market where Oracle already has a strong presence with its Fusion offering.

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