Red Hat grows up

Steve Hamm

Red Hat has ridden the Linux wave quite successfuly for a decade now. It's by far the leading Linux distributor and growing at 40% to 50% per year. This is mostly based on a simple formula: For many applications, corporations can cut their computer hardware costs by 30% or more by shifting from proprietary Unix software and RISC-chip hardware to Linux running on Intel- and AMD-based servers.

Now comes Red Hat's next act. In its next major release, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, due out before the end of the year, the company is introducing a handful of technologies and services aimed at making computing substantially cheaper for corporations. It's attacking the total-cost-of-ownership issues that Microsoft has raised in an effort to hold back the Linux tide. If Red Hat brings down the cost of open-source computing by another big step, it, and Linux, could prove mighty hard to stop.

What's coming from Red Hat is virtualization, stateless Linux, and improved tools and techniques for developers.

Virtualization: Red Hat is incorporating Xen virtualization technology into its package. That will allow computer users to run several versions of Linux, and several different applications, on a single server--and also to shift applications between servers on the fly. Typically, virtualization increases utilization of servers from about 15% to 70% or 80%, so companies don't need to buy as many servers to do their computing jobs.

Stateless Linux: It's a system for managing both desktop computers and server computers from a central location, with a computer users' identity and data stored securely on a server. A person can sit down at any of their employer's desktop or laptop computers and log on to use their applications and access their data. The idea is that far fewer techies are required to keep computing systems running.

Developers: Red Hat wants to make it easier, quicker, and cheaper for people to develop new applications on top of Linux. They're packaging a handful of software development tools, including Eclipse and Frysk, and selling new services--including helping customers learn how to tap into the open-source programming community.

This isn't sexy stuff, but, eventually, it could create a seismic shift in the computing landscape.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.