Linux Server Management Nightmare: Attack of the Killer Penguins

by Paul Rubens

OS Roundup: When it comes to Linux server management, if your Red Hat Enterprise Linux distro isn't supported by Red Hat, is it still Red Hat Linux, or is it 'Frankenstein Linux'?

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Imagine a monstrous, seven-foot reanimated Tux-the-penguin with bolts though its neck, pursued through the countryside by angry pitchfork-wielding villagers. It's not an image you're likely to forget in a hurry.

And that, one suspects, was the intention of Dan Pacek, Red Hat's strategic marketing guy, when he described the predicament you'll find yourself in, should you be foolish enough to ditch your Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) support contract and get a cheaper third-party support offering instead.

"You're left running some sort of hybrid, in-between Frankenstein Linux," is how he put it, during a 40-minute webinar extravaganza aired earlier this month, devoted to trashing the RHEL support efforts offered by the likes of Novell and Oracle.

Why the monster imagery? "As soon as you patch your system, it is no longer RHEL, which means none of the ISV certifications are valid any longer," he said. "High risk" was one way he branded third-party support. "Pay and pray" was another. It's a long way from Frankenstein, but you can see what Pacek is getting at.

But the truth (or otherwise) of this hasn't put RHEL users off looking to get better support elsewhere, according to Wim Coekaerts, Oracle's "Mr Linux." "Due to dissatisfaction with Red Hat's quality of support as well as a desire to get more value, many users have switched from Red Hat Support to Oracle Unbreakable Linux Support," he claimed on an Oracle blog.

That's odd. It was only last October Red Hat was voted number one in the 2009 "CIO Insight Vendor Value" study, which polls IT executives on the value of their vendors' product and service offerings. Oracle? It came in ninth, just one place below Novell.

Ah yes, Novell. Those scallywags offer a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) Subscription with Expanded Support, which also includes technical support for "certain existing Linux deployments" for three years while companies migrate to SLES. And what deployments might they be? Why RHEL deployments, of course. And why would anyone want to get their RHEL support from Novell? Well, "Novell is the recognized leader in enterprise-class Linux technical support," for one thing. At least that's what the company, rather brazenly, claims.

What's going on here? Are Novell and Oracle really meeting with any success? It's hard to believe they are. After all, Red Hat is going from strength to strength, while Microsoft money continues to be prop up Novell, and Oracle's Linux support offering is hardly the talk of the town. Oracle also now has the small matter of Sun to digest, so it's unlikely to be putting much concerted effort into its shatterproof penguin support for a while.

So why the need for Pacek's webinar devoted to pooh-poohing third-party support offerings? Is Red Hat simply setting straight Oracle's "Due to dissatisfaction with Red Hat's quality of support ..." and Novell's "the recognized leader in enterprise-class Linux technical support" claims?

Or is Red Hat actually a teensy bit worried that these two companies are starting to pose a clear and present danger to its business which, after all, is reliant on customers paying for support contracts? Beats me. What do you think?

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Feb 23rd 2010
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