Red Hat executives are putting on a brave face and looking at Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux announcement as a positive for them, saying it is an acknowledgement that the future of software is open source and that its Enterprise Linux software is the gold standard.
Oracle on Oct. 25 announced that it will provide the same enterprise-class support for Linux as it provides for its database, middleware and applications products.
Essentially, this means that Oracle, after removing Red Hat trademarks, will be distributing Oracle Unbreakable Linux, derived from Red Hat’s open-source Linux technology.
“It would certainly have been easier had they not made this announcement, but there are a lot of things that actually will be positive for us,” Tim Yeaton, Red Hat’s senior vice president and general manager of its products division, told eWEEK.
“We do not think it is at all true that the move could put us out of business and we think it supports the model behind the way we have built our business.”
The company has already started reaching out to its investors and business partners to convey its point of view about this development and its impact on the company, and they have all been supportive so far, he said.
It will continue to do this going forward, and will also be reaching out to customers through its sales force, Yeaton said.
“We feel very confident that nothing changes for us strategically. There are certainly some issues and assumptions made in Oracle’s model that was inconsistent with how our model really works that we have corrected on our Web site,” he said.
There are also some complexities to the model put forward by Oracle that will not be easy for customers in practice, and Red Hat believes strongly that it will continue to service the large group of its customers who have a dependency on Oracle, he said.
The company will also not deviate from its core mission to build out an end-to-end open-source platform, Yeaton said.
With regard to the competitive aspect of Oracle’s move, Yeaton said Red Hat believes “most strongly” that the move creates a significant expansion of the market opportunity in the long term.
“Competition means choice, and choice has been one of our key mantras. We are also in an industry where coopetition is common,” he said.
But those in the proprietary software business see it differently.
“I guess the drawback of having to make your source code available is that anyone can come across and start a business on it, including a services business,” a source who asked not to be named told eWEEK.
Yeaton begs to differ. “The fact that customers now understand that the future platform direction is Linux and open source is likely to accelerate the movement of old Unix-based applications to Linux, which will be the tangible evidence we will see of market expansion and acceleration,” he said.
That means that Red Hat would have to continue to drive innovation, deliver high quality services and support and add valuethings that have always been part of its strategy, he noted.
Asked if Red Hat would lower its prices given that Oracle is offering its Unbreakable Linux program for substantially less than Red Hat currently charges for its best support, Yeaton said that while Red Hat feels very confident about its subscription offerings, it will be looking at this to see if changes were necessary.
But support pricing is not really relevant given how customers buy products, he said, adding that the comparable cost of components in an Oracle offering more than offset any difference in support pricing between them.
Customers do not typically just buy the operating system, they buy a set of elements that build out the platform, and then the solutions above that. “In the pricing context, think of the application stack we recently announced for under $2,000,” Yeaton said.
Next Page: Relationship with Oracle to stay the same.
“That is starting to look like the basis on which a customer would deploy an application. If you were to take those pieces and compare them to the equivalent that’s implied in an Oracle offering, then the modest price difference between us on the support line vanishes,” Yeaton said.
There are probably more than 80 Red Hat Enterprise Linux derivatives in the market today, “but in the end, if you make a change it is not RHEL and the ISV certification does not apply. There are a whole lot of things that you get with our subscription model that you don’t get from others,” he said.
Also, having an open source story for one piece of the puzzle does not always resonate with customers. “You are committed to community-driven innovation and collaborative development or you are not. We have a very clear story that doesn’t change,” Yeaton said.
Yeaton is also very clear that the company has no plans to make RHEL freely available without support, saying that it will always be tied to a support model. “We don’t anticipate any changes to our strategy here,” he said.
The code base will indeed fork if Oracle did what they have said they are going to do, he said, noting that it has yet to be determined how those changes that represent a fork will be folded back into the community.
“When you make a change to the source base, even if you strip out all the copyrights and the like, changes in the source base puts at risk the ISV certification, the hardware support and all of those things,” he said, pointing out that other distributions have done that before, had not done well because of it,” he said.
“If you are introducing bug fixes or optimizations, or any of those things, it is a fork and that fork is going to have to deal with how those get resent with the next release,” he said, adding that the company will continue to engage with the upstream community around everything it does.
“But what we won’t do is upset our release strategy. We continue to innovate in our release model and customers do not have to move forward to inherit a set of fixes. We spend a large portion of our engineering resources on backporting fixes and this will be expanded pretty dramatically in RHEL 5,” he said.
The company is investing in a much finer-grained support model for every point release within a given stream, not just for the major releases.
Red Hat also does not intend to change its relationship with Oracle, even though it was not notified in advance of the announcement, unlike many of its partners such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, he said.
Red Hat would also continue to focus on growing and driving the channel, which remained an important priority, he said.
The company also does not intend to try and prevent Oracle from accessing or using its source code as this would not be consistent with its goal of maintaining “transparency and community-based involvement. All that stuff stays the same,” Yeaton said.
Asked if Red Hat is at all concerned that Oracle could use its size and financial resources to destroy it, Yeaton said that the beautiful thing about open source is that customers have a choice and get to decide what is meeting their needs.
“We are not going to have a knee-jerk reaction. Oracle is a big company to be sure, but it is a big company doing a lot of things. We are an open-source company from top to bottom. It’s in our DNA, and we are not wavering from that,” he said.
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