IBM, Red Hat create global alliance for Linux

Linux market leader Red Hat Inc. is teaming up with IBM Corp. to put its premier business Advanced Server operating system on a wider range of IBM servers, while also providing customers with full global support.

In an announcement today, IBM and Red Hat unveiled a multiyear deal that will create a global alliance to help support Advanced Server-equipped machines for business computing.

Until now, IBM only offered and supported Red Hat Advanced Server to customers on its eServer xSeries Intel-based servers. Now the offering is being expanded to IBM's full eServer line, including zSeries mainframes and iSeries and pSeries servers.

Peter Nielsen, a global Linux executive for IBM, said the two companies will be able to share technical resources, including personnel, under the arrangement to vastly improve support. "We will provide customers who want to deploy Linux a great deal of confidence," he said. "IBM Global Services and Red Hat Network are joined at the hip to help customers."

Still to come, he said, are expanded IBM software offerings, including DB2 database and WebSphere application server, for the new Advanced Server-equipped product lines.

Mark de Visser, a marketing vice president for Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat, said the expanded alliance makes sense for customers, especially those who already have relationships with both companies.

"That meant two partners and was more complicated," de Visser said, saying the move helps give customers improved access to support through one primary vendor. Customers will be able to choose whether they want IBM or Red Hat to be their primary Linux vendor; the other company then serves as their secondary source.

Advanced Server, which was announced earlier this year, provides businesses with a robust operating system that offers major improvements from past Linux releases, including support for up to eight processors.

Analysts said the deal is potentially a good one for vendors and their customers.

In the past, some customers looked at the Linux marketplace as a confusing and fragmented place to seek IT help, said George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. With this alliance, IBM essentially gives Red Hat its seal of approval, he said.

"This is more like IBM going out ... and telling enterprises that Red Hat is the major [Linux] operating system of choice and they're going to provide services around it," Weiss said.

The deal also sends a message to independent software vendors who may have held back on creating applications for Linux that their time has now come, he said.

What remains unclear, he said, is how the alliance with Red Hat will affect IBM's relationship with other Linux vendors, including Germany-based SuSE Linux AG. "There are lots of pluses here, but there are things that still have to be considered," he said.

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., called the IBM/Red Hat deal "an important evolutionary step in the relationship between these two companies."

While not fundamentally changing the Linux industry, it does provide more choices for companies looking at LInux, he said.

"This makes it easier for the customers," Gillen said. "By simplifying access for the customers to get to their suppliers."

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