By Ryan Paul Published: March 15, 2007 - 09:40AM CT
Linux vendor Red Hat announced yesterday the availability of of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5), the latest version of the company's commercial Linux distribution. Featuring tightly integrated virtualization technology, broader hardware support, and improved interoperability, RHEL5 is the culmination of two years of focused development work undertaken in collaboration with the open source software community. In addition to conventional desktop and server editions, Red Hat plans to offer a small assortment of specialized RHEL5-based solutions designed for datacenters, database servers, and high-performance computing clusters.
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With the release of RHEL5, Red Hat is also pursuing a significant change in strategy. The Linux vendor plans to launch a new open-source Internet marketplace called Red Hat Exchange (RHX) that will facilitate the deployment of commercial, third-party open-source applications on RHEL installations. Red Hat hopes to become the nexus of open-source services and support by bringing together disparate vendors into a cohesive ecosystem that is conducive to simplified maintenance and support.
RHX will allow consumers to buy software support services for third-party open-source technologies like MySQL database software and SugarCRM customer management systems directly from Red Hat. The company will provide first-tier support for software deployed through RHX and will leverage its new Cooperative Resolution Center to help customers resolve problems that emerge at any level of the open source stack.
Third-party software is typically vetted by Linux distributors through a certification process. By taking a more active part in selling, supporting, and deploying third-party products, Red Hat is moving beyond its traditional role and becoming the arbiter of an open-source software gestalt built around the company's core product. This appears to be the next phase in Red Hat's attempt to expand beyond operating system support, a process that started when the company entered the middleware market by acquiring JBoss last year.
The strategic shift represented by Red Hat's new RHX service could give the company an edge in an increasingly competitive market for open-source services and support. Red Hat faces unprecedented competition from a number of other vendors with strong industry ties and equally compelling software. Linux vendor Novell, which recently partnered with Microsoft to provide stronger Windows interoperability, is already carving out a growing portion of the enterprise Linux market. Red Hat also has to contend with proprietary database vendor Oracle, who now offers commercial Linux support for Red Hat users. Red Hat will also have to watch out for competition from smaller companies like Canonical, the company behind the increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution which is inching its way into the enterprise Linux market.
Providing support for a wide variety of third-party products isn't going to be an easy task for Red Hat. It will require the company to significantly expand the scope of its support infrastructure and maintain close ties with numerous vendors. Red Hat has demonstrated a capacity for leadership and collaboration that will work in its favor, but the company has also exhibited a tendency to downplay major competitive threats. If Red Hat's goal is to expand into a new market while providing better value for Red Hat Linux users, the company's new strategy seems like a compelling approach.