OPENWORLD - 1,500 companies adopt Oracle Unbreakable Linux

A better Red Hat than Red Hat? It's a touchy subject

Oracle on Wednesday said that 1,500 companies have signed up for its Unbreakable Linux discount support program since it was announced one year ago.

The number of customers is impressively greater than the number Oracle announced six months ago -- 26. And that was with "virtually no selling at all" of Unbreakable Linux, bragged CEO Larry Ellison during his keynote speech at OpenWorld on Wednesday.

"We did all of this while just building up our Linux sales team," he said.

Unbreakable Linux includes enterprise support for applications running on either Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or Oracle's close clone, all at half the price of Red Hat's.

"It doesn't matter which Linux distro [Red Hat or Oracle] you're on, Oracle will support you," said Cole Crawford, IT strategist at Dell, during a Tuesday panel at OpenWorld.

Dell is running a 16-node megagrid with Oracle's new 11g database on RHEL for which it is getting Unbreakable Linux support, Crawford said. Dell is also running Red Hat and Suse Linux.

Customers announced by Oracle in March included Yahoo, videogame maker Activision, the IHOP restaurant chain, and others.

Besides Dell, new customers of Unbreakable Linux include clothing store chain Abercrombie & Fitch, newspaper chain Cox Enterprises, McKesson, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stanford University, and others.

Despite Oracle's fast growth, Red Hat remains the top dog in the enterprise Linux market, with tens of thousands of subscribers to its support business. During its Q1 2008 call with analysts, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said it added "multiple of thousands of customers" in that quarter alone.

For its most recent quarter, subscription revenue, including support contracts, was $109.2 million, up 29% year-over-year. All 25 of its largest support customers renewed its contracts at 122% of their prior contract's value, the company said.

Yet, Red Hat appears vulnerable. Multiple users at OpenWorld -- both on Oracle panels and not -- cited dissatisfaction with the quality of Red Hat's support.

"The price is half of Red Hat. And we feel we get twice the attention," said Brad Maue, CIO of Stuart Maue Co.. The St. Louis, Mo. legal auditing firm switched its Linux support wholly from Red Hat to Oracle a year ago.

Maue said Oracle is even willing to help with problems involving third-party software that Oracle has not technically certified to run on Unbreakable Linux.

"There were some bugs in Linux that, beyond Red Hat introducing RHEL 5, we weren't able to get the pressure to get them fixed," said Tim Heath, senior database engineer at Yahoo.

Yahoo has about 50,000 servers running RHEL 4 out of a total of 150,000 servers. Yahoo continues to get support from Red Hat even while subscribing to Oracle.

"We like to pit the two against each other, to see who submits fixes faster," Heath said. While he declined to say who was winning, Heath said "We are very very happy with the support we've received from Oracle."

The biggest advantage of Oracle support, says Heath, is that getting support from a single vendor eliminates the "fingerpointing" between the applications and platform departments when a problem arises.

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