Weta’s Linux cluster creates licensing ‘headache’

Linux is freely available to all who care to download it, but commercially supported distributions cost real money as New Zealand company Weta Digital is discovering while it mulls over where to head with its 3200-processor Linux cluster.

IBM New Zealand’s xSeries product specialist Andrew Spurgeon said Red Hat Advanced Server licensing is now a headache for the company. "Weta is a very large Red Hat Linux site. Basically everything it does is on Red Hat Linux with a few exceptions as there are some Mac and Windows applications," Spurgeon said.

"One of the main reasons we started talking to Weta was because of Linux."

Speaking at this year’s Interaction IBM users forum in Melbourne, Spurgeon said the reason Weta went with Red Hat, as opposed to a 'free' Linux distribution like Debian for its high-performance computing work, was mainly around application support.

"The likes of Maya and Shake support a certain type of OS and obviously the hardware vendors as well. For example, we don’t support Debian-so Weta is just trying to find out where to go from here and it’s not a question it has answered yet."

Spugeon added that Weta may choose to go down the 'free' path but that may prove difficult as none of the hardware or software vendors support it. They support

Red Hat Advanced Server and that costs real money.

According to Spurgeon, one of the reasons Weta chose to work with IBM is because of its Linux support offerings, adding the fact that you can’t throttle the open source community into action if something needs attention as motivation.

Red Hat Asia Pacific vice president Gus Robertson said the company is gaining more traction in the high-performance computing (HPC) space and has therefore introduced a unique pricing and support model for those customers.

"We have a specific HPC model which is now sold through our OEM partners," Robertson said, adding that it wasn’t available at the time of Weta’s initial cluster deployment.

"We tend to handle HPC deployments directly and have many customers who are happy with the software price and support costs."

Robertson said Red Hat’s HPC business is analogous to selling its operating system in bulk with support.

"We have a set fee for the head node and a nominal fee for the other nodes," he said.

"There has to be a middle ground and customers need to realise the value above the operating system. It was Weta’s expectation to pay zero dollars and we don’t provide it at zero dollars."

Robertson did not offer an idea as to how much less a HPC customer is likely to pay for Red Hat compared with a standard business customer, but said the cost of the software compared with the overall project is 'a single digit percentage'.

"We are now working on a channel business for HPC and are always happy to talk to Weta," he said.

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