In a move that could help it fight foe Oracle but anger some longtime allies, Red Hat Thursday officially began selling and providing technical support for popular business software that runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
The program, called Red Hat Exchange, lets companies using application "stacks" -- which consist of any of 14 mostly open-source applications -- deal with Red Hat as its "single throat to choke" when technical issues arise.
It also provides a new source of revenue for Red Hat at a time when it is being threatened by Oracle, which began competing with Red Hat directly by offering discount support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux last October. Last month, Oracle revealed it had won contracts from 26 Red Hat customers.
Red Hat has already provided support for some open-source applications for several years. The Exchange greatly expands that strategy and ensures that Red Hat gets its cut from vendors for any support work provided. It also allows the firm to avoid laying out cash, as it did last July when it spent US$350 million to buy application server vendor JBoss.
"I see this as providing an intermediate alternative between Red Hat simply not playing beyond a specific section of the stack at all and doing an acquisition as with JBoss and Sistina," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.
Red Hat Exchange seen as 'logical'
Red Hat first announced the Exchange in mid-March.
Billy Marshall, CEO of Linux appliance vendor rPath Inc. and a former sales executive at Red Hat, argued at the time that for an operating system vendor to offer support for software it didn't develop or own made as much sense as "Emerson Electric announcing that they intend to sell and service Whirlpool washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. Why would a consumer buy a Whirlpool appliance from a manufacturer of appliance motors?"
Haff called the move a "logical" one for the company. "Red Hat has long ceased to be merely an operating system vendor in the narrow sense," he wrote. RHX "provides a vehicle for the company to both sell and support a broader portfolio of products -- thereby helping to counter the breadth developed in-house of mixed-source companies like Novell."
The move could have repercussions for Red Hat supporters. Longtime allies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard both make money reselling and supporting Red Hat and open-source applications that run on top of the operating system and the Exchange announcement could ratchet up the 'co-opetition' among the companies.
Smaller support providers such as OpenLogic and Optaros may also be unamused by Red Hat's incursion.
HP takes the view publicly that more players will create a bigger pie for everyone, rather than everyone being forced to take smaller slices. "We have a strong relationship with Red Hat and this will give our customers even more of what we ultimately aim to provide -- choice -- and we're energized when we see the open source software ecosystem growing in such dynamic ways," Doug Small, worldwide director of marketing for HP's Open Source & Linux Organization, wrote in response to questions from Computerworld. "Even with the launch of Red Hat Exchange, the depth of HP's resources for support, services and integration remain unparalleled. As the leading Linux platform vendor, we also look forward to the hardware revenue opportunities this will provide HP."
Red Hat already popular for MySQL users
Thirteen out of the 14 initial applications that Red Hat will sell and support are open source. "We're pretty excited about RHX," said Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing for open-source database provider MySQL.
Red Hat is already the most popular operating system for MySQL users. It is also one of MySQL's top resellers and providers of frontline technical support, Urlocker said.
Urlocker emphasized that technical support should not degrade: difficult technical problems will continue to be handed by Red Hat back to MySQL's own technical team.
Other firms include: collaboration software providers Zimbra, Scalix and Jive Software; content management system provider Alfresco Software; system monitoring providers GroundWork Open Source and Zenoss; business intelligence vendors Pentaho and JasperSoft; CRM providers ComPiere, CentricCRM and SugarCRM; and data backup vendor Zmanda.
The lone non-open-source vendor is EnterpriseDB, a commercial database based on the open-source PostGreSQL database..